The Destruction of the Jews of Latvia
by Max Kaufmann
Part IV, Epilogue and Footnotes
The Stutthof Concentration Camp
consisting of skiffs, ordinary rowboats and some old small ships.
slowly approached the shore. From afar we saw a large sign: Stutthof. Hundreds
of armed SS men were arriving to receive their "guests". Suddenly
there came an order: "Unload!" Our guards chased us out of the ship,
using their truncheons and rifle butts. We ran across the slippery
boards of the skiffs, many of us falling into the water. But what did
that matter? The sun was strong and it soon dried us off. We
lined up in a long and wide column five abreast, with the
women in front. The German Jews
were very excited, because they were stepping onto the holy soil of
their old homeland. Their faces wore expressions of great
satisfaction. Free at last of the damned East, home at last in
their native land!
received them "well" indeed, and their joy was soon over!
The first prisoners at Stutthof eat
during a break in the construction of the camp.
of Panstwowe Muzeum Stutthof
We marched along
a beautiful asphalt road that led through the small town toward the
concentration camp. Everything was deserted. Only now and then we
saw an isolated person. who would look at us with pity. A couple of
captured English and American soldiers with hanging heads and tears
in their eyes met us on our way They knew only too well that only a
very few people from that long column would return.
Now we marched past the lovely
mansion that housed the administrative offices of Waldruhe
(Forest Peace). No one could imagine that behind it stood a cruel
concentration camp that held tens of thousands of victims. It was
fenced in with a double row of electrified barbed wire. High
watchtowers stood around the edges, and from afar Stutthof looked
like a city in itself. It
consisted of a main street and many side streets; there were
barracks everywhere. The women's camp was separate. On the
left side a new Stutthof was being built. We saw here gigantic stone
buildings and large kitchens that had not yet been finished.
Apparently an especially large concentration camp had been planned.
Surrounded by SS men, we went through the mighty gate and reached
the camp's main street. The women were ordered to march on to their
camp. It was completely still in the camp, for everyone was away at
work. The few who had stayed in the barracks were the room
representatives, and now they came up to meet the new arrivals. We
noticed that each one carried a truncheon, which was probably part
of the concentration-camp uniform. They talked to us to find out
whether we had anything to make cigarettes with, and explained that
be taken away from us anyway - which in this case
wasn't true. Two policemen also came by to satisfy their curiosity.
These policemen, German prisoners, were equipped with especially
long truncheons, like animal tamers in a circus. They were
accompanied by large dogs who seemed ready to eat us up for the
smallest infraction. The policemen jeered at us and surely must have
thought to themselves, "Now there'll be work for us." And that's how
happened. the brief registration procedure was not followed by a
thorough body search. This was very lucky, for it gave us an
opportunity to smuggle some valuable items into hiding
places so that later on we
could buy something to eat with these reserves.
We saw we had been badly deceived, and regretted that we
had not risked an escape attempt
in Riga. We also felt that here a different wind was blowing than in
the Kaiserwald concentration camp, where every Latvian Jew still had a
connection with the outside world.
We were led to the large Barrack No. 3, which was divided into two
parts, A and B. We were "allowed" to enter it - but how to settle in was another
matter! We slept four to a narrow bed. How was this possible? Well, we didn't sleep at all. And
I was especially lucky because I was assigned a neighbor (Zachodnik) who normally needed a
whole bed for himself. Inmates from other barracks came to visit us
and informed us of our sad fate. "Here, here," they pointed to the
large oven. "is the end of all of us!" Thousands of our brothers had
had to go through this
oven! They told us of other terrible things, but we were still
"naive" and couldn't believe
them. But only too soon we were forced to realize that they
were telling the truth.
contingent of the prisoners in the camp were Poles. But besides
them, all the peoples of the
earth were represented. One could even meet people from Tunis and
Algiers. From afar we saw
a large group in uniform. It consisted of Norwegian policemen. We
heard that they had been
brought here because they had tried to revolt. But their situation
was better than ours. The world cared about them. They sometimes received packages from the Red
Cross! We seemed to have nobody: no one
cared about us, and the world seemed to have
Our Jewish barrack stood across from one for Aryan Poles who
couldn't work. Every morning several corpses were carried out of it on stretchers. They
went "through the oven" immediately. The room representative of this barrack and
his "assistants" had beaten them till they were half-dead. Yes, the only language that ruled
the camp was that of the truncheon. Our room representative "Bogus",
an Aryan, could not cope with us in spite of his truncheon. So he appointed some of our VIPs with their blue caps to help
him. They too were much better
off than we were.
In the evening the commandos came back from their work
stations. All the roads were
swarming with people. We realized that tens of thousands of
prisoners lived here. A large column of women marched down the wide road to the women's
camp. SS girls accompanied
them. During the day they had to work in the ABA (Army Clothing
We heard a mixture
of all the languages of the world.
Because we had no assigned numbers as yet, we were
forbidden to leave the barrack:
nonetheless. we walked around a bit to size up the situation. We
were chased by policemen and hounded and bitten by the dogs, but this was an
everyday event and nobody was
impressed by it.
surviving members of the first transport to Stutthof and the few
Jews from Estonia heard of our
arrival, they visited us. We barely recognized them! Those pale
faces! Those filthy, ragged outfits from the time of Napoleon, those
high, round caps! They were sheer caricatures!
We "new ones" still laughed, but they no longer had smiles on their
faces. When I saw our old acquaintance from Riga, the elegant Dr. Jakobsohn, dressed like a circus clown in
short pants, I too shed tears.
Some of our
artists (Schelkan and Arnov) sometimes earned a plate
of soup from the
room representative with their music. The prominent boxer Kagan, who
had sadistically demonstrated his strength in Riga and would do so
again in Magdeburg, sometimes earned a bit of food. He had meanwhile
become a singer. Our room representative Bogus also displayed his
cruel instincts. For every small infraction he would order us to
troop out to the street. At his familiar command, "All Jews sit
down!" we had to squat down, and he and his assistants would then
beat us on our heads with their truncheons.
the great evening roll call began in Stutthof. We lined up ten
abreast, each group next to its barrack. We were counted and written
down in the register until the registrar came to pick up his report.
It was quiet throughout the camp. "Caps off!" The registrar arrived.
The report on one barrack was correct, the report on another wasn't,
so we had to stand at attention for a long, long time on our weak
feet. Finally a trumpet sounded from the large watchtower at the
entrance gate. It told the world in all directions that the great
roll call was over. We felt
trumpet played the familiar tune of the Marjacki Cloister in Cracow,
which transmitted every noon on the radio. Now began a race to the barracks to
grab a place to sleep. Because there was not enough room for
everyone, many had to spend the night on the floor.
Actually, this was the best
place to sleep because at least there you slept alone. People put their shoes under their heads to help themselves sleep
were awakened at four a.m.! Without enough sleep and totally
exhausted, we had to get
up in a few seconds. As we left the barrack, each person received
his bread ration at the door. Sometimes a loaf of bread had to be
shared by five people, sometimes by six. This depended entirely on the
room representative, who kept whatever he didn't distribute. He then
bought gold and other valuables
at the expense of our stomachs. Of course nobody dared to complain, for we feared that if we did so we would "go through the oven".
Later, we had to share a bowl of coffee among four people.
Everything had to be eaten on the street in the dark. There we
also relieved ourselves. The toilet was a story in itself. We
had to get permission to get into it
at all. Everything was made even
more difficult by an overseer (from Vilna). Once, we rejoiced as a certain part of
his body was brutally
"worked over". There was no provision
whatsoever to enable us to wash ourselves, and we were not allowed
to enter any other
was also a great problem. We had to look "young", so we scratched
off our beards with any knife that
came to hand, which left our faces very cut up. Once we had left
our barrack, we were not allowed to enter it again. So we were
outdoors from very early morning when it was still dark, till after the evening roll
call. Only the VIPs enjoyed the privilege of being allowed to remain
in the barracks. The weather was already growing colder, and to "lighten our load" the
camp administrators decided to take our coats away from us. We
formed "ovens" to warm ourselves: that is, we stood in a tight
circle, pressed close together in order to warm one another.
still had no numbers, and so we were not yet sent to work. They
began to register us under the
direction of a Polish Catholic priest who was lodged in our barrack.
This took a very long time, and those who were allowed to do this
work were fortunate, for while they were doing it they could stay in
the barrack. Unfortunately, I had no luck: nobody paid any attention
to my efforts, and so I was not chosen to be one of the
"registrars". The same priest also organized a group of ten men to
pray in the barrack. Suddenly everyone wanted to pray! Not out of
piety, but in order to warm themselves up a bit. However, the
priest did not select people at random,
he already knew his "customers". The first ones to be selected were
always the son of the
prominent Mr. Dubin and Dubin's secretary Mr.
Golowciner. They were the "real" prayer reciters. They had great difficulties with the rations because they ate
only kosher food, so in this camp they were starving.
During the first few days the Latvian
"aristocrats" also visited us. They were the "honor prisoners", and
they wore special yellow armbands. There were also other
"aristocrats" from other countries. All of them looked well, so
apparently they were not doing too badly. Among them was the son of
the former Latvian President, Prof. Cakste; the well-known
Bruno Kalnins; the former Latvian ambassador to Sweden, Seja; the
former Minister of Transport, the engineer Einberg; and the former
director of Riga's largest chocolate factory, Kuze. They visited their
puikas (boys) to receive messages of greeting from Riga. We
received these people very coolly and did not get involved in any long
conversations with them.
Noontime at the camp! There was no set lunchtime for us non-workers:
the room representative fetched our lunch whenever he felt like
it. Everyone fought for the privilege of carrying the kettle. The
reason was that while doing this errand it was possible to see the
perhaps exchange a few words with them through the barbed-wire fence.
The kitchen stood directly next to the women's camp. The food always
consisted of thin vegetable
soup, but to us hungry people even this tasted good. We stood for
hours in long rows to receive it. Afterwards the bowls were
collected. This was a new chore - being a "bowl collector" - for
which one received an extra portion of soup. But not everyone was
lucky enough to get to do it. From all sides came the cry,
"Wolne miski!"(Empty bowls!) Of course
we ate without spoons. Some
people drove bargains, trading their soup for a portion of bread or
vice versa. In other barracks, lunch was brought in the early
morning, poured into large wooden barrels and covered with
Many of us became ill because of the wet, cold weather. But there
was no infirmary for the
Jews. If a person became ill, he went "through the ovens" at
once! But our doctors managed to set up several beds in a corner for the sick people in our barrack. As
soon as an SS man turned up, all the sick people ran away, for they
feared having their numbers written down. Once an SS man really did
find some sick people and immediately wrote down the numbers of
these unfortunates. That very evening, before the roll call, they
were taken away and gassed. Except for the times when we fetched the
lunch kettle, the only connection with the women was through the
children, who carried notes back and forth. Whether the children
were allowed to go to their parents or not depended entirely
on the mood of the SS girls at any given moment.
After several days the last Jews arrived from the HKP barracks camp
in Riga. From them I heard that just
before they left, my special friend Scheman (from Liepaja). who was
also well-known to all the others,
had become emotionally deranged. Thereupon he was shot immediately and buried near
Kaiserwald. Several young men from the Kaiserwald camp who had tried
to escape had also been mercilessly killed. They had even had to dig
their own graves
beforehand. In contrast to us, the newly arrived group of Riga Jews
was searched very
thoroughly. They had everything taken away from them and were forced
to wear different clothes. They were also assigned to another
barrack. Of the few women in the group, to my knowledge only Mrs. L.
Misroch and her daughter survived. All the others died of typhoid
starvation. Forty-eight Latvian Jews who were unable to work were
also sent to Stutthof from Konigsberg in eastern Prussia. They had been told they
were being sent here to "recuperate". They looked terrible, being
only skin and bones. Some of them were sent to their eternal "recuperation" the very
day they arrived. The next day it was the others' turn, as the gas chambers could only handle a certain number of people per
Two "Aryans" arrived separately from
Riga: the well-known Professor Idelsohn and the
Milmann. The former was known to be a committed Jew, but the latter
was a sell-professed Latvian.
But the fact that Milmann had been baptized more than fifty years
ago had obviously been of no avail. Professor Idelsohn had
been the only Jew who was not sent to the ghetto. This had been
managed by the children of his second wife (a German), who were
high-ranking party members in
Berlin. But in the end even they could not help him any longer. How
often we had seen Professor Idelsohn in Riga running after the
Jewish work crews to give them a package of bread! He had repeatedly
asked to be put into the ghetto too. Now at last he was
sharing the fate of all the Jews, for he had been sent to Stutthof.
Three days after his arrival he died of a heart attack and was
During our time there, even Latvian criminals were brought to
Stutthof. It was the Poles who
received them "properly" in the barrack assigned to them. The Poles
justified this by claiming that the Latvians had helped to
put down the Polish revolt in Warsaw, and had also run riot in the
Warsaw ghetto with the utmost cruelty.
In the meantime, I was "naturalized" as a Stutthof resident. I
received a new name: Prisoner No. 96046. My number was written on my
chest and my trousers. Now we waited for our "invitation" to go to
work. We found out from the Labor Authority that our transport was
one of the "valuable" ones, as it included a number of specialists.
For this reason we would be sent
very soon to work
outside the camp. There was no food for those who didn't work, so
for the time being we were sent every morning to a variety of work stations.
There was no system for assigning work, so everything was a matter
of luck. Today one might have easy work, tomorrow heavy labor
and vice versa.
Many prisoners competed for the job of
unloading things from the skiffs. Sometimes during this work it was
possible to filch things that could be traded for bread. One day, as
I was working on a skiff with my friend Israelith (from Liepaja), I
"organized" two left-hand gloves,
but this turned out
badly for I was discovered and badly beaten.
Another time, I was assigned to the lumberyard work crew. We had to
carry large beams on
our shoulders and
stack them up in the lumberyard. All this was done under the
supervision of Polish foremen,
who beat us with large wooden clubs. They explained to us that we
were lucky, because
before we came there had been a rule that each foreman had to bring
back a few corpses from the work crew. These corpses were carried by
the first row of the work column. The work was almost impossible for
us to bear physically, but we used the last remnants of our
strength so as not to have our numbers written down and then he
gassed the same evening.
Two huts stood in
the woods near our lumberyard. These were the brothels for the SS
men. Women of all nationalities, but no Jewish women, were brought
to these huts. These women did not look bad, so in terms of food and
clothing they must not have had a bad time of it.
Then there was
also the notorious work crew No. 105. It was especially feared, and
when the foremen of this work crew came to fetch us for work,
everyone tried to avoid being selected. But once I was fetched for
this work crew nonetheless. We were driven through the large camp
gate under heavy guard, and after a long march through the forest we
reached our new work station
already exhausted. Here we were searched, and everything we owned
was taken away from us. Now the katorga
(unbearably hard labor) began! Once again we had to carry
heavy logs on our shoulders, but this time it was from one hill to another. We were
not allowed to drag them down from the hills, which would have been
much easier. Although we threw all our strength into it, at last we
could do it no longer. Thereupon we were beaten murderously with
large truncheons, but even that made no difference: we simply
couldn't work any more. Now the
sadistic foreman made the whole work crew line up and asked each one
what his profession was. He made our comrades Schalit and Calel
Garber, who said they were musicians go off to the side, and
then he began to drill them. They were ordered to run, he beat them.
They were ordered to throw themselves to the ground, creep along on
their bellies, run again, and so on. I could hardly bring myself to look at
this, and prayed for death to release them! Fortunately,
just then a truck arrived. We had to carry logs to this truck and
load them onto it. Then it was noon, and we returned to the
As we marched
through the forest, the German foreman talked to us. "What kind of
people are you?" he asked us. "You must have no God at all, for if
you had one, he surely couldn't look on and see how you're being
treated." I thought to myself: "This murderer and sadist is right,
for doesn't the world know what's happening to us at all? Aren't
there any Jews left who know us
and want to help us?" But now, as I write these lines, I have
changed my opinion totally. I have just read the report on
the trial in Poland of the murderers of Stutthof. All of them were
condemned to die on the gallows. These cold-blooded slave drivers.
who had killed thousands and thousands of human beings, went to
their deaths like the cowards they were. Some Poles who had cruelly
mistreated their brothers were also hanged along with the SS men and
I would also like to mention something I found out recently: during
the war the Swedish section of the World Jewish Congress (which is based in New
York) took measures to save
the Jews. The
Latvian Jew Hillel Storch was involved in these efforts. The son of
a respected family from Dvinsk, he had escaped to Sweden with his
wife (nee Westermann) shortly before the war.
When the horrible
news about the fate of his co-religionists reached him, he made
contact with Himmler as early as 1943 and later on in 1945, thanks
to the mediation of the head of German counterespionage Schellenberg, and of Dr. Kersten (Himmler's personal physician). He
succeeded in more or less postponing part of the extermination, and
many of us perhaps owe our lives to him.
One day the announcement came: "Jews are not to go to work.
At eight o'clock all Jews are to line up in closed ranks on the
camp's main street!" The inmates of all the Jewish barracks
marched in rows to the street,
as they had been ordered to do. They were made to line up according
to countries, the Latvians separately, the Germans separately, and
so on. A large, high table was brought, and the representatives of
the Labor Authority appeared carrying long truncheons. Along with
them came some very well-dressed civilians, accompanied by SS men.
The civilians were representatives of a factory that needed workers.
The slave trade began. We were told that various Jewish skilled
craftsmen, but no Germans, would be needed for work in a factory.
After hearing this announcement the German Jews hung their heads in dejection, not knowing what to do. But the rest of us thought to
ourselves: "So much for
homeland and your
But our VIPs with their blue caps from the Kaiserwald concentration
camp, who were always
trying to enrich
themselves at the expense of our stomachs, now as ever made sure
that some of the Germans were
included. For example, the German Jew Oskar Salomon - whose sadistic
nature we got to know all too well later on in Magdeburg -
managed to smuggle himself into our transport. Now the call rang
out: "Skilled craftsmen! Mechanics, shoemakers, tailors and
others!" Those who volunteered had to run to the table as fast as
they could. It was
immediately obvious who could run fast and who couldn't. Those who
couldn't were told to go off to
the side. Now each of us tried, with his last ounce of strength, to
pass this test. Even cripples tried it, but they were sent
This selection process for the work crew lasted three days. It was a
rest period for us because (1) we didn't have to work, and (2) we
were safe from beatings. In the meantime we found out that the
selected workers would be taken to Magdeburg. I had tried by every
possible means to
be one of them. My
efforts were successful. I thought to myself: winters coming on, and
they'll certainly put us to work in closed rooms inside that
supposition was correct.
The lists of
workers were drawn up quickly. Now we had to wait for the trucks
into which we would be loaded. Three hundred women, mostly from
Vilna and Hungary, and a single small Latvian boy Sima were also in
our transport. Because the planned departure could take place any
day and any hour, we were not sent to do any work for the time
being. After several weeks had passed in this way, the Labor
Authority decided that our idleness had lasted too long and that we
would be sent to work again. In the meantime two other Jewish
transports of women and men departed. One was headed by a certain Glucksmann and the other by the notorious Kassel. These
people worked near Danzig under extremely difficult conditions (see
chapter "Via Stutthof - Burggraben... - Lauenburg to Freedom"). Only
a few of them survived,
many died of starvation, the cold, and the beatings.
After the first transport had gone, there was somewhat more space in
our barrack. Now once again we went to work regularly. A work crew
that drove to Elbing every day had fairly good conditions there. The
ABA also set up work stations and employed many of our people, for
engineer Antikol, Springefeld and others. Unfortunately, none of
was a new work crew, the so-called "potato commando". Cars loaded
with potatoes would arrive on our
narrow-gauge railroad. They had to be unloaded and clamped. The
work in itself would not have been difficult, if only the
many Polish overseers had not beaten us
constantly with large truncheons.
They chased us and beat us, shouting. "Ale jusz, ale jeszcze!" (Do it, do it again!) This
"Ale jusz, ale jeszcze!" rang in our ears for a long time.
only good thing about this work crew was that now and then we were
able to filch a raw potato, a beet or a carrot. We had
to eat them at once on the spot; it was dangerous to take them
anywhere, for we were searched thoroughly as we left our work
station. If even the smallest
thing was found on us, we were punished immediately. For me this
work crew was not bad: it even provided me with a maline
(hiding place). This was the maline: I was ordered to
take potatoes to the pigsty, and I could use this opportunity to
take for myself some of the potatoes that had been cooked for the
animals. To enable my comrades to share this "good fortune",
I took a different one with me every day.
the meantime, the news arrived that Riga had already been occupied
by the Russians. Of course we rejoiced greatly, but at the same time
we were angry all over again that we had not attempted to escape
while we ware still in Riga. But now it was too late to change
evening all the inmates of the concentration camp were ordered to
line up on the camp's main road. Not only the main road, but also the side streets swarmed with
people. We could see a gallows in the distance.
Two Russians who had resisted an SS man were to he hanged. This "just" verdict was read out in three languages (German, Polish and
Russian). The German camp representative put the
ropes around their necks with his own hands, and a moment later the two young men were
dead. We were forced to witness another
execution as well.
Alter that I
was put into a construction work crew. A new factory was being built
behind the camp. I was
ordered to carry lime. The foreman noticed that this work was much
too hard for
my physical strength and wrote down
my number. At once I sensed danger and asked him for another job.
Thereupon he ordered my comrade Hahn and me to carry bricks to the second floor. Hahn told me he was ill,
so I was the only "strong" one. We labored and struggled, using all our strength. Fortunately it
grew dark soon, and the work crew had to return to the camp. Our joy was boundless. In this way, people struggled to survive
every day, for in spite of all the cruelties we wanted to
our departure for Magdeburg, more than a thousand Jews came to
Stutthof from the notorious concentration camp Auschwitz. They
included people of all nationalities, but most of them were Greeks
and Hungarians. I also met some people from our region
(Bialystok). They told us about
horrible things. Until then I had believed that there was
nothing more horrible than Stutthof but after hearing their reports
I knew better. In Stutthof
hundreds of human beings went "through the ovens" every day, but
there it was thousands. At
the special railroad station of Auschwitz the transports were
received with music, and to music the rows of women, men and
children were taken to the gas chambers. I heard very gruesome
stories. Unlike the inmates of other concentration camps, the
inmates of Auschwitz had their numbers tattooed on their
wrists. I found out that they numbered in the hundreds of thousands.
The new arrivals were not put to work until they had been
"naturalized". So they wandered around every day in the street next
to their barracks in the cold and damp.
The women's situation was very similar to the men's. Their
quarters were just as crowded as ours. Specially trained SS girls
wearing black capes whipped them with leather straps. When we
went past we often saw the poor women doing gymnastics in the
street all day long. Besides those who had come with us, we also saw
many women from Lithuania (Kovno and Lodz). There was a separate
barrack for the women from Hungary and the ones who were unable to work. Every evening we saw a truck packed full
of sick women drive past, with
half-sick women dragging themselves along behind the truck. All of
them were moving toward the gas chambers. Because they knew what was
in store for them, they were weeping and moaning. But the SS men and
girls who accompanied them had no sympathy for them. I can still see
those pretty women's faces before me today. But even those who were
gas chambers were overtaken by their fate. They died of starvation
and typhus. During my
time there, a women's transport was also sent to Thorn (see the
chapter on the AEG barracks camp). These women had to work under
harsh conditions in a factory that had been evacuated
An order came: "Prepare for a transport." After a long
period of waiting, we now had to leave the notorious Stutthof. Before this happened, we were led
into the "bath" which ended as always with heating and torments. We received "new"
clothing. Fortunately, in the process I received a lambskin jacket which I would also use as a
blanket in the future. In the large
square we were searched once again and then loaded, under heavy
guard, into open freight cars on the narrow -gauge railroad. The man appointed to
lead the transport was the notorious
SS man and murderer from Riga "Iron Gustav" (commandant of Dundaga
and "specialist for
shots to the neck", as he called himself). We were also accompanied
by the SS man Hofmann, who had carried out the large
extermination action in Strazdumuiza, and by the sadist Schuller
from the Kaiserwald concentration camp.
From afar we saw the place where we had worked in the "potato commando". Now
the Jews who had been brought from Auschwitz were working there. We
heard only screams,
accompanied by the
unforgettable refrain. "Ale
jusz, ale jeszcze!"
(Do it, do
Buchenwald Concentration Camp (Outer Camp Magdeburg)
"The wheels must
roll!": that was Germany's motto. Our wheels rolled very fast along
the stretch to Magdeburg. I barely knew the name "Magdeburg", I only
remembered from Polish history that the Polish general Joseph Pilsudski had occupied the
fortress of Magdeburg. Shortly
after our departure, we encountered at a station on the way a large
women's transport bound for
Stutthof. We pitied every one of these women, for we
knew what awaited them there. We ourselves had no idea either of
what the future would bring us, but in any case we
imagined that Magdeburg would be
better than Stutthof.
Fairly soon, we left the small-gauge railroad and were
loaded into large cattle cars on the mail railroad line. We received
food, and in our wagon I had to distribute it. Now we rolled along
at express-train speed. Apparently no time was to be lost, for
people were waiting for us to begin work. The trip was supposed
to last three days, but we had already reached our destination of Magdeburg on the second evening. There was
a general blackout in Magdeburg,
so we could recognize nothing but the small spotlights that lit our
path. Besides representatives of the factory, a group of guards had come
to receive the new arrivals. We
lined up five abreast, with the women in front, and marched to our
new camp which was supposed to be situated near the factory.
There was not just one camp but several, separated
from one another by high walls. Our women were put together with
Aryan women in a
camp, but they were housed in special barracks for Jews.
The sign at the camp entrance read: "Buchenwald
Concentration Camp. Outer Camp
Magdeburg". At this entrance gate, as everywhere else so far, stood
a small special building for the guards who had to supervise the
entrance and the entire camp. The Riga boxer and
sadist Kagan was appointed camp representative. For support he
surrounded himself with a staff of people whom he ordered to deal
with us as harshly as possible. The rations were very bad: 150 to 200
grams of bread a day and watery soup. Sometimes there was also a bit
margarine or other small items. But we comforted ourselves with
the thought that our rations would certainly be increased at the
factory, since it was impossible to work on only this small amount
of food. Unfortunately, this assumption was not justified. The
living conditions were just as bad as before. In the meantime, the
factory managers sent the foremen of all the departments to view the new workers. The foremen appeared:
we awaited them lined up in
rows, and all those who would be working in the individual
departments were selected. Of course we had no idea which
departments were especially favorable, especially with regard to
the most important thing for us: where we would have the best
opportunities to "organize"
I was put into
the Galvanik department. But we couldn't start working yet, for it turned out that all of us were full of lice. So we had to be
put into quarantine for a short time. No Blau's gas was available to
exterminate them, so we had to stay in the camp. We were
put to work there for the time being: only a few of us had to go
to the factory to do clearing-up work. Of course we waited impatiently to hear what they would report
back to us, for example
what the factory looked like,
whether they had received extra rations, and so on.
In the meantime our new "hosts", the sadists Hoffmann and
Schuller, began to create "order". It began with the usual morning and evening roll calls.
Once again. we had to stand around for hours. Special emphasis was
put on us taking off our caps correctly and marching well. Our camp
representative was a great specialist in all these matters, and he
thought up some new torments for us besides. Before being deloused
we received our new numbers. I received yet
another new name:
Prisoner No. 95522.
Finally we were deloused and moved into
our new barracks. The beds stood close together, always three high. Every person received a sack of straw
and a blanket. Initially the blanket distribution was very disorganized, and one often had to sleep without a
blanket. Every barrack received its block representative with his
rubber truncheon. First we had a Polish Jew Ignatz, who was always
using his rubber truncheon. After him came one of our own who was
milder. The block
representative who ruled the second block was clearly a sadist: a
German Jew named Salomon who made everyone cellos power. We
trembled in fear of him. just as
trembled in fear of the camp representative. There were also some
associates of the camp representative (Izke and others), who had
also received directions from Kagan. The camp representative had a
small room of his own in which he lived together with his younger
brother. who was considerably more decent than he was, and the
quartermaster Wilner, a very
honorable and pious German Jew.
Workshops were set up once again.
There was a small shoemaker's workshop, a tailoring shop
and a barbershop. A special barber
was appointed for the SS men; this was Fonariow who had
already held this position in Kaiserwald. He often assured us that
more than once he had wanted to slit his customers' throats. A
carpentry workshop was also set up with the engineer Mischkinskv as foreman.
Mischkinsky was one of Schuller's favorites. The internal work was done by a special work crew led by our comrade Nachke. This group (which
included Dzemze, Zapp and others) received privileged
treatment from the camp representative, and it was deployed wherever there was
"easy work" and good opportunities to "organize" things. It also had a special corner in the
barrack: there the members of the group ate together. Whenever we passed this table our
mouths watered. All the members of this work crew were part
of the camp's VIPs, and everyone was afraid of falling into "their
We were allowed
to use the sleeping barracks only for sleeping, and there was a
special dining hall for meals. The tables were numbered and every one had his assigned
place. Every table had a table representative who received
the food from the block representative and had to distribute it. The food was brought in buckets from the kitchen of the
women's camp. The kitchen was headed by the SS man Drybe who
had carried out the action to exterminate the Jews in Klooga,
Estonia. All the signs in the dining hall and all the numbers in it
had been painted
by our comrade Joffe with my help.
representative of Table No. I was the well-known Zionist activist
Rosenthal. Then came the
Czech table where only Czech Jews sat and only Czech was spoken. As
always. I was "lucky" with the number 13. My table was No. 13, and
its representative was my comrade Nioma Kurin. Sometimes he took a
bit more for himself, but in spite of our great hunger we overlooked
this. Because a more educated group of people had clustered together
at our table, the others called us the "high-society table". If they
were cursing us, they called us "the intelligent ones". The engineer Sienitzki from Vilna sat opposite me. Besides my comrades Gustav
Joffe, Jakob Zinman and Birkhahn who later died of starvation,
there were also other genuinely
intelligent young men in my table group. Whenever the food was
distributed, one had the best opportunity to observe every individual's character and degree of refinement. All of us were
starving, and basically nobody could wait to sit down to eat. Of
course no precisely equal distribution was possible. Outwardly
self-controlled but inwardly baring our teeth in anticipation, we watched the bread
until it was distributed. In order to be as fair as possible, we invented the following procedure. One of us had to stand
with his back to the table and was then asked before each piece of
bread was handed out: "Who gets this one?" Thus the distribution was
entirely even-handed. After the bread had been distributed, a
veritable exchange market was opened. One man would trade his bread
for soup, another for margarine and so on. Or someone would buy a
knife, a spoon. a needle or the like. The bread was measured out in centimeters as a
means of exchange, so each of us always carried a small
ruler. More than once, when a person urgently needed a small piece
of shaving soap or something else, he would have to go without a
whole meal in order to get it.
0f course that meant I had to go hungry al! the
following day. Once I tried to eat the bread in
two parts, but during the night I couldn't sleep until I had eaten up the
bread I had saved. My
comrade Joffe, who didn't approve of my system. resolved every
evening to save a piece for later,
but in the end he couldn't wait so long either and ate everything
up. The only resolute man
was Sienitzki: he always divided his bread ration into portions. He
was also the only one in
the Magdeburg concentration camp that I was really friends with, and
when we separated after the liberation this parting was
very emotional for me.
After meals Joffe would often tell
us about his world travels, and the entire political situation would
also be discussed. In the final phase we had to rush through our
dinner because the Americans
would "pay us a visit" regularly. The lights had to be put out
beforehand. During my time there, the city of Magdeburg was heavily
bombarded twice. From afar, we saw it burning for several days. Both
the Americans and the English were very precise in their work. They
dropped their bombs only a few meters front our concentration camp
but left us entirely unscathed. We were actually
convinced that our factory would also be destroyed one day. But it
remained unscathed for our sake, not in order to further the
Germans' interests. Right after the Russians occupied it, they dismantled it and transported it to Soviet Russia.
At last came the day when we had to go to work in the factory. Five
abreast in a long row and surrounded by SS men, we marched through the gate of our camp to
the factory. As we walked through the camp gate we were
ordered, "Caps off!" We were counted and then we marched on.
The large factory we came to was called Polte and consisted of many
buildings. Besides the Jews, thousands of other prisoners had been
put to work there. They worked in
shifts, twenty-four hours a day. We too worked in two shifts: one
week we had the night, the
next week the day shift. During the shift changes. one heard all
the languages of the world. The workers included an especially large
number of Frenchmen and Belgians.
In peacetime the Polte factory had
manufactured dishes and metal lamps, but now it had been entirely
converted to weapons production. We Jews worked in a special
department that produced cartridge
cases. After they let us into the factory, our SS men remained
standing in the doorway and
supervised us front there. Sometimes some of them hung around in the
factory to check whether we were working or not. There was also a
factory police force that was supposed to prevent sabotage. They also stood at the factory entrance
to check the workers' passes.
Because of its sheer size. our
department made a tremendous impression on us. Those of us who had
been assigned to the Galvanik department were led into a special
section. The foreman examined all
of us, inquired about our previous occupations, and then assigned everyone his job. Finally he explained to each individual what he had to
do, for everything was done in the manner of a conveyor belt.
He appointed me section chief and assigned to me the duty of
always making sure my comrades had the equipment they needed,
besides doing my own job. Depending on their respective jobs, one
worker might receive white silk gloves, another rubber gloves, and
still another rubber boots and a rubber apron.
It was still cold
in the factory. The machines were standing still, and only after
worker was at his place did the foreman press an electric button
that immediately set the giant
machines into motion. The very same
thing was happening in the other departments too. The
factory hall was now full of the noise of the machines and the
rattle of small electric wagons that constantly drove back and
forth. I was assigned to install insulation. The work itself was
not difficult, but it was unpleasant because even at times when I
didn't want to work I
couldn't take a break, since it was the machine that set the pace.
It took us weeks to get more or less used to the work. Often the
machine didn't work for hours at a time because of some mistake we had made. The foremen
sweated to put everything in order again. Then, crash! - and
once again the machine was standing still.
The only really fortunate thing about the Galvanik was that
there it was nice and warm, and we also had the opportunity to wash
with hot water. Because washing powder was available us, we could also wash our clothes. Now I had a new
"occupation" for my free time: being my comrades' "laundryman". Once when doing the laundry, I had
a stroke of very bad luck. Engineer Lein's shirt dissolved completely in the washing
kettle because I had used too much
bleach. Since I was of course unable to replace it, the poor man had
to walk around without a
shirt for a long
Other people who also wanted to earn a bit of bread
(measured out in centimeters) turned to other occupations that were
also in demand. For example, one could "organize" some steel of tin
and use it to make knives or margarine containers. Brooches and
other pieces of jewelry for our women were fashioned out of galalith.
Shapiro was a specialist at this. Most of the customers for these
things were our VIPs, who then paid tor them with the food they had
kept from us. Out of the rags we received to clean the machines with, we
made bags for our rations and patches for our clothes and underwear. The women (such
as Mrs. Loewstein and others) magically produced veritable
"designer models" from these rags. It was not at all uncommon to
come across a woman who was wearing a nice blouse or something
similar under her
uniform. Everyone would give up his last piece of bread in order own
a sewing needle: we made
thread out of the cotton we were given to clean the machines with.
Comrade Dreyer was regarded as an especially talented artist
because he managed to produce sock-like
creations for us. In short, every
minute at the factory was spent either sewing or washing.
The prisoners from other departments came to our rooms in
the Galvanik department to wash themselves. Comrade Atlas was a regular guest. We had two foremen.
The older one, who wore Nail insignia, soon became quite
soft after he fell in love with a young Hungarian Jewish woman. Tile second one, a hot-tempered German,
became ever more unbearable as the collapse of the German forces
progressed. Once he slapped me too. I did not keep my position as section chief for long, for it was handed over to my
comrade Sienitiki. The people became
more and more familiar with the factory work, and I was quite proud
and happy about the skills and abilities of my co-religionists. Hard-working
women and men attended the large precision machines. Those who had
been recruited in Stutthof as shoemakers, tailors and so on - all of
them now stood at the large combined machines. I must emphasize that
from Vilna were the best workers.
The specialists among us included engineers, electricians
and mechanics. The factory's head
engineer relied heavily on our engineer Segall. This head engineer
was an extremely evil man. Wearing his green coat with its party
insignia, he was constantly strolling through the large
factory hall and letting us feel his power. The Jews who attended
the furnaces had to work the hardest. They scarcely had enough air to breathe, and so
they could not work very long at a
time. We also had
victims to mourn because of our work. Some of the young men lost
Kusmann, Gurwitz), and a young woman from Vilna even lost a hand. As
a "reward" for this, they transported her later to the main part of the Buchenwald
concentration camp, intending to send her "through the oven". But
her life was saved by chance.
Sunday was our day of rest. Only sometimes did individual
work crews go to do clearing-up work. We ourselves greatly preferred
to go to work, for in the camp under the supervision of
our tyrants we were
even worse off.
Besides our work in the factory, we had another and more
important kind of work. It consisted
of (1) "organizing" something to eat for ourselves, and (2)
processing the raw materials we
had "organized" in the factory, by producing a knife, a brooch or
some other useful object. Filching food was a particularly difficult
and dangerous enterprise. The best place for it was in the Aryans'
kitchens. There they dumped all the food that was left on the plates
into buckets. These buckets were then put outside to be picked up so
that their contents could be used to feed the pigs. This was our main field of action. However, one had to he an accomplished acrobat in order to sneak through a
window or a door unnoticed by the SS men. Only in this way was it
possible to dip a bowl of soup out of the buckets. Getting potato
peelings was eyes more complicated. It was considered a special
stroke of luck if one sometimes found pieces of beet. I too once
managed to reach the garbage dump and get some potato peelings. Of
course there were veritable "professionals" for
all these activities. A couple of Polish Jews were the best in this field. But our young men
(Ch. Shabel, Robert Chait, Kaliko, Padowitz) were almost as good. Many paid for their recklessness with heavy
beatings and confinement in the
detention cell, but
even this made no difference to them.
Lunch was brought to us once a day in large pails from the
camp to the factory. It consisted
a bowl of thin soup, and a person was lucky if he found a potato in
it. Our VIPs made sure they had fished all the good pieces out of
the soup before it got to us. We were furious, but we
could do nothing at all about it. Once, when I ventured to say
something about it any way, I was immediately slapped in the face. It was lunch that made people really
hungry. Exactly the
same thing was happening to the women. They had their Ljuba (the
leader of the work crew )and another VIP
who "took care" of them in the same way.
The meeting point where we could talk about all this was
the toilet. But even this "pleasure" had its limits. At first one could go out only for a
certain length of time, but later on it was
only at fixed time.
For us the air raids were a great relief. In the beginning
they were unfortunately rare, but toward the end they became more
and more frequent, several times a day. With the greatest joy we ran, together with the Aryans, into the air-raid
shelters which had a space specially divided off for the Jews. When we heard the preliminary
alarm we got ready to go, and we
were always bitterly disappointed if it was not followed by a real
one. During the air raids the whole victory suddenly looked
deserted. We heard only the noise of thousands of planes and
the bomb explosions. As we sat in the long, narrow, dark cellars,
this noise was music to our ears. T he young people from Vilna and
the women gladdened us with newly composed and very interesting sad
songs. When the all-clear signal came, we had to return to the
once. Alter twelve hours of work we returned to the camp. The
next shift was coming. On the way, in the large hall, we met the
others and exchanged a few words. Then we walked on. As always, we marched in rows live abreast:
One, two. three, left and
left" was the command. Sometimes a person would be thinking or
something else and would march out of step. Woe to him if a column
leader noticed, for then there would
he an immediate beating. We marched
and our wooden shoes clattered. The closer we came to the camp
our posture, so that the murderers Hoffmann and Schuller would be
satisfied. Unfortunately, they were not always satisfied. Then we
had to march for hours as a punishment, and we were, also sent to
our camp representative for "direct treatment".
"Caps off!" We marched into the Magdeburg outer camp of the Buchenwald
concentration camp. Once again we were counted, and then we lined up
in the roll-call square in front of our barrack. If we came from a
day shift we had to wait for
the roll call; if we came from a night
shift we went
directly to bed. The women marched on to their women's camp.
A new transport
of Hungarian Jews, women and men, arrived in our camp from
Buchenwald. Although they
were not the least bit nationalistic in their attitude, they were
Jews all the same. In terms of their outward appearance they made a
very good impression. This group included
excellent professional people. and
the women were young and pretty. They weren't keen on
making contact with us, for we didn't appeal to them in
the least. The camp representative
Immediately got to work on them, using his methods to "make human
beings of them". The only thing they could do to his
satisfaction was to march. They had been officers and soldiers, and they knew how to do it because of their army days. In a
marching competition they, won
the first prize.
We used Sundays, when we didn't have to go to work, to clean
up. Now and then the camp representative made sure we "got some
fresh air" by chasing us outside to march in the cold without our coats on. We spent our tree time in our
"dining room". We mended our clothes and waited to he ordered to so to work again. Schuller
would always appear suddenly.
What angered him the most on his visits was when he found
one of us wearing a scarf around
his neck. That
person would immediately receive a real hiding.
On Sundays we also visited our comrades in other barracks, for often we
hadn't seen them all
week on account of the
day and night shifts. On one of these visits I met a certain Mr. Schäftel,
a teacher from Vilna, and over time I became
quite friendly with him. He was a very gifted human being and, most importantly, he had a broad political perspective. His optimism was as great as
mine, and both of us firmly believed we would eventually be liberated On the great Jewish holiday of Purim he held an excellent lecture in his block. The meaning of
Purim gave hint a great deal of
material to compare with our life at that time. His listeners were
gripped by his talk. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend
because I was working elsewhere.
Also living in this block were Dubin's son and his secretary
Golowtschiner. Both of them looked ghastly. They were still
observing the kosher regulations and thus were hardly able to eat a thing.
Golowtschiner soon collapsed from weakness,
so he requested a work assignment
inside the camp. When the camp representative offered him a position
that involved using a rubber truncheon, he refused it. He lasted only a short
time doing factory work and soon died of starvation.
Young Dubin often visited me in his free time to pour out his
heart to me. He
regarded me as a genuine native of Riga and was still convinced that his
father was living in Soviet Russia. Also lodged in the same
block were the artists Godes and Schalith. Their health
bad. In a quiet comer of this barrack, one could also find the
prominent Riga painter Rudi. He generally
ordered by people who paid
for them in bread.
we almost never had a real day of rest on Sundays, we waited
for the next morning and our factory work with impatience.
The day began at four in the morning. Within a few minutes
we had to be on our feet and
make our beds army-style. For a long time I slept next to my comrade Joffe to warm myself,
but he needed more space, so he found himself
a better sleeping place on the second level. Now came the order:
"Get coffee!" A different group was appointed every week to do this
job. The coffee had to be fetched from the kitchen of the women's
camp, where only women worked, including a couple of Jewish women. One day this
job was assigned to me. I still
remember exactly: it was the morning of 1 January 1945. The
personnel, including the guards, were still in a New Year's Eve mood. I immediately took
advantage of this unique
opportunity, and out of a pail of leavings from the previous
evening's holiday feast I took as much goose goulash as I could
stash away. Because I was totally unprepared for this "find", I
had to put everything I managed to grab into my pockets and my cap.
I reached our barrack successfully with this precious booty. I gave my comrades
some of it, ate my fill, and still had some left over to trade
with. Of course I had customers from the best social circles for
so I had enough food for myself that whole week.
Once a similar coincidence occurred in the factory, and it
helped me a great deal. .A foreman from another department, who assumed
I was a doctor, asked
me to translate a letter for him. I took the letter with me to the camp and asked a friend of
mine who was a genuine doctor to
translate it. It was a letter in German containing Latin medical
terms. The foreman wanted to receive the treatment described in the
letter so that he would he exempted from military service. He was very satisfied with my performance and
told me later that the letter had saved him. to reward me, he gave me between five and ten
potatoes a day for several weeks.
Cooking them in the factory was by no means easy, but we found a way
to do even this. Cooking potatoes in the camp was also very difficult. There was not
a single small iron stove in the washroom. To get
permission to use it, we had to pay a percentage of our potatoes to
representative there. The stolen potato peelings were also cooked,
and we made a cimes (dish)
out of carrots. Every one of us suffered from stomach-aches.
One Sunday I was supposed to fetch our lunch together
with a group of other men. We were standing next to the kitchen and
waiting for the pails. At this moment a large cart load of sugar-beets arrived. A colleague and I decided immediately
to organize a couple of sugar-beets for ourselves. My
(Zalelsohn) reached the cart,
took a few for himself and got back safely. But I had lost time
because I hesitated for a moment, and I was discovered by Hoffmann just as he was coming
out. He took me with him into a small outer office, ordered me to take off my glasses, and
gave me a had beating with his rubber truncheon. He hit me so hard
in the face and head that I felt I wouldn't get out of there alive. Finally I had to carry a pail of food
to the barrack all by myself. How I managed to do this is still a riddle to me. For long
time I went around with my head completely swollen.
At other times this sadist would beat us on our
naked buttocks for every small infraction. We would have to
count the strokes of our punishment ourselves, and if we tried to
skip a count he would start
again at the beginning. Another punishment was to be locked up in a
dark, cold bunker without food. In addition to all these torments we
also felt the heavy hand of our camp
representative. The first victim
was a young fellow from Vienna who was beaten to death.
By now, most of us were mere skeletons.
We were absolutely exhausted, morally, physically and
emotionally. We clung to various news items that seemed positive. Now
and then Gottlieb the
watchmaker managed to hear something new on the radio, and his
brother sometimes got a newspaper
from an Aryan in the factory. Afterward we would discuss the latest
news in great detail. I was
convinced, especially toward the end. that our liberation was bound
to come. And I talked about this with all my comrades. I
always led the way with my optimism!
An infirmary was set up for the sick
and the weak. It was headed by the nose, ear and throat specialist Dr. Jakobsohn,
assisted by Dr. Volpert from Riga. Because Dr. Jakobsohn did not get along with Dr. Volpert,
he replaced him with Dr. Jaworkowsky Jr. The
latter had a great deal of understanding for us and helped us
whenever he could. There was also a dental clinic which was headed by the dentist
Kahn from Riga. He had hardly any instruments at first, but over
time he received the essentials. Before the dental clinic was set up the Buchenwald concentration camp had sent us an Aryan
prisoner who was allegedly a dentist to "soothe" our
toothaches. His entire battery of
instruments consisted of one set of pliers for tooth extraction, and
his sole manner of treatment was to pull teeth. He "treated" even
people with sound teeth by extracting their gold teeth.
Because of our state of half-starvation, the heavy labor and the beatings, the infirmary
always full of sick people. During the final months our bodies were
so racked by
starvation that clearly all or us had swellings, some on the face,
others on the feet. Many also died because of the constant
lack of food, for example Golowtschiner, my table-mate Birkhahn, A. Tukazir
and others. At this point permission was given to set up a
special block for recuperation. I will tell more about it later.
the women's camp, which lay behind ours, the women were housed in
barracks just as we were. The sanitation conditions there were much
worse than ours. In
particular, the condition of the latrines beggared all description.
For this purpose there was only an open pit beside the
barracks into which one could fall easily. The regulations and
working conditions also
matched ours. Outside the factory we
had no contact of any kind with the women. The only intermediary was the little boy
Sima, who was allowed to run back and forth between the two camps. Later
on he had to act as a messenger boy for the camp representative for
a short time, and after that he went with us to
the factory for several weeks. There he stayed in what was
called the women's kitchen.
From day to day we could see how
quickly even the prettiest women lost their beauty. The women
experienced some accidents in the factory too. One day scabies broke
out in the women's camp (among
the Aryan women as well). The doctors there were at their wits'
end and came to Dr.
Jakobsohn for help. Fortunately, this epidemic did not last long: if
it had, they would certainly have been sent to Buchenwald to
On orders of the concentration
camp's central administration, a tuberculosis examination was
carried out. All of the women,
Aryan and Jewish, were examined. Extraordinarily high numbers
of cases were found in both groups. These sick women were then put
into a group that was sent to Buchenwald to be gassed.(6) It
included the woman from Vilna who had lost her hand In a
factory accident, as well as our young comrade Sirotinski, because
he was too sick to work. The woman survived by a lucky chance,
but our comrade was killed.
morning as we came into the factory to relieve the night shift, the
women who had worked that night weren't there. We were very
agitated. Later we found out the reason: the
whole work crew had been taken
back to the camp that night. Understandably, the women were thrown
into a huge panic. All the women in the barracks also had to come
out. All of them were
ordered to line up around a square, in the middle of which stood a
gallows. Not long afterward, a closed car drove up. Out of it
stepped the executioner, wearing a top hat, patent-leather shoes and
white gloves. The SS girls brought out a Ukrainian girl who was
already half-dead. The main overseer held a short lecture. She
declared that this girl had been
condemned to die because of sabotage. The same thing would happen to
any of them if they took
even the slightest liberty. Then the poor woman was killed very
quickly. Afterwards, all of them without exception had to march past the corpse. Anyone
didn't was beaten. People said the "sabotage" had taken place
as follows: one of the factory foremen had tried to molest her and
she had slapped his face in public. People also said that after the
liberation this foreman had immediately been arrested by the Jews.
His subsequent fate is unknown.
beginning of 1945 the factory was no longer operating at full
capacity. The scarcity of raw materials
was having its effect. There were days on which we only had to work
for a few
hours. But of
course both the management and the foremen had the greatest interest
in keeping the factory in
operation. They knew very well that if the factory closed they
would be drafted into the army. They found a solution by lending
some of us Jewish workers to the NSDAP
Socialist German Workers Party). Our new occupation consisted of
hauling material out of the
bombed houses that could be used to build fortifications against the
enemy. The factory management had to
negotiate with the NSDAP for a fairly long time about
our deployment, as the party officials were unwilling to
send us to work in the town.
We men marched
out of the gates of Polte for the first time. Not long alter we had
left the camp w could already see the first ruins. Under heavy guard we matched
through the once-beautiful town of
Magdeburg. We went through the center of town, past the main
railroad station and saw not a single house that was whole, only
rubble. Huge apartment buildings had collapsed like houses of cards.
Only a few people were out on the streets. The guards drove us toward the
Hindenburg Bridge. which we had to fortify against the
There was one thing we could not understand at all: Magdeburg, which
lay in the heart of Germany, had to be protected from
the enemy already? "Comrades," I called out, "it makes
all clear to me now!" We
have a saying: "When the bell rings. the work's over!" I had
overheard a German saying quite openly that the Russian army 's
vanguards had broken through and were now only a few hundred kilometers from Magdeburg. I kept
it to myself, for after I had told a comrade he had simply laughed
at me. So I told them to work "hard" - after all, we
had to win
When I worked on
fortifications. I was always lucky. It was that way in Riga too: the
enemy bypassed the city and my fortifications stood firm. I hoped
the same thing would happen again in Magdeburg. And indeed, I was lucky once more. The Americans made a
detour around the town, and our
months of work were all in vain. We had to fortify not only the
bridges, but also the access roads. For this purpose. heavy steel
beams were dragged out of the bombed houses. Once as we were
working in the wrecked houses, we "strolled" through a hole in
a cellar in hopes of "organizing" something there. We found a
tremendous amount of loot, for the Germans had stored huge amounts
of food in their cellars. There were some excellent items:
puddings and first-class drinks. Everything had to he eaten as fast
as possible. The only thing we could take with us was
potatoes. Sometimes we found potatoes already roasted by the conflagration. But it was
dangerous to take even potatoes back into the camp. Our murderers in the camp had heard
about it, and when we returned they searched us thoroughly and gave
us a terrible heating. Some of us will not forget how often
we bled for those potatoes. "Strolling around" in the bombed-out
cellars meant death in any case, for signs hung everywhere to the effect that looting was punishable
by death. So we were risking our lives to get something to eat. One
great advantage of our new work was that at the NSDAP work detail we received an extra bowl of soup at midday. In a word, it
was worth the effort.
sections of the factory were still operating, not all of us could
get into a work crew in the town. In any case, the situation at the camp eased
significantly, and everyone tried hard to get into the
fortification work crews. Besides the crew working on the Hindenburg Bridge, which we called "the long tour", there was
also a second work crew. "the short tour".
which worked on the Hitler Bridge. We went to work in the town without tools. Only on the way there, in the
courtyard of NSDAP headquarters, were shovels and other tools handed
out to us, and we had to give them back when we returned. Shouldering our
tools like weapons, we
marched through the town singing. We sang Soviet songs in Russian.
In our group. the song
"Bej wintowka, po golowkie bezposzczadno po wragu" (Shoot mercilessly with your rifle at
your enemy's head) and the
well-known song "Katjuscha" were great hits. But the SS
people soon found out what the texts of the songs meant and
forbade us to sing them. The
townspeople, and the displaced Russian civilians even more
so, watched us in astonishment. The Hungarian Jews. who marched in
even better military formation we did, also sang their Hungarian songs.
many women also came to work in the town: they had to carry bricks
and dig trenches. For us the work was a great relief, not only
because we got better food, but especially because we could now form
a rough picture of Germany's situation - after seeing all the ruins being flown
over by thousands of airplanes every day, and hearing the reports of the
Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (Germany army headquarters). We knew that the destruction of Magdeburg had lasted only 55
minutes. Initially we were accompanied only by the SS guards. Their
leader was Oberscharführer
Hochwarg. Later they were replaced by the Volkssturm
(teenage boys recruited during the last days of the war). Among the
latter there were also many who beat us.
During the final
week before our "temporary liberation" we received one more new
transport of Polish Jews. They were sent to do special
clearing-up work and were not part of the factory work
crews. They lived in a separate barrack under very bad conditions
exhausted because of the long time they had been prisoners
(since 1939). They were assigned
to do a very good kind of work where one could organize a great
deal. At their work station they found a large maline (hiding place) full of barrels of stinking
old herring salad which they sold to us like hot cakes. They
also got their hands on mocha-chocolate beans. The trade
flourished, and in order to get some herring salad we parted from
our last pieces of bread. These
Jews too had to line up at the usual roll calls. It was very lucky
for them that our camp representative was not in charge of
that. Before they were assigned to their work, they were subjected
to the usual delousing process in our washrooms under very
some things eased up for us because we were in the town work crew,
our ranks continued to
thin out. Many people went to the infirmary and died there. The
number of people with
edemas due to starvation (swollen faces, legs, etc.) kept
increasing, and so it was decided to set up a recovery
block. I was there too. Initially I wasn't accepted because the recovery block was
overfilled. The recovery consisted of receiving a small amount of
medical treatment and not
having to go to work. While I was in the recovery block I became
certain that something would happen - that is, that the end was
coming. The Americans were getting more "impudent" every day in
their bombing work and paying us their visits several times a day. Finally even the large
cold-storage depots of Magdeburg, which were located only a few
hundred steps from us,
were bombed. This caused tremendous damage. Because I did not want to be classified as "unable
to work" any longer, I decided to return to the camp despite
my weakened condition.
The next day - it was 11 April 1945 - we were sent to
another place. We were ordered to dig protective trenches behind
the town. Besides us, Aryan inmates from the prisons were also
working there. On the way we noticed that armored cars had been
stationed on the corners in preparation for street fighting. We now assumed that our
liberators were very close to the town. But we didn't know anything
more detailed than that. After finishing our work we went back
toward the camp. In the meantime the armored cars had been parked
across the streets so as to block them. Our SS leaders no longer
knew what to do and led us up toward the cemetery. There they
quarreled about whether we should stay there or return to the camp.
Finally they decided: "Back to the camp!" On the way we met our
murderers Hoffmann and Schuller. They had all their luggage with them, and Jews
were being forced to pull it for them in a wagon. When the SS guards
saw Hoffmann and Schuller, they left us standing there
and ran away. We threw our tools down on the street and were
free! We stood there paralyzed and
couldn't grasp it
I decided not to return to the camp and spent the night
with two comrades in a woodshed in
the town. I didn't go back to the camp until the next morning. On the way there, the civilian population was already giving us bread. In the camp a great
celebration was going on. All the gates
stood open and everyone was walking around freely. The Hungarian
and Polish Jews had already disappeared. All the food supplies had been
plundered. In our barrack I was
treated to a holiday banquet. My comrade Sienitzki and I found new
sleeping quarters for ourselves in the SS barrack. Because of a
heavy bombardment by the Americans, which we had always wished
for, we spent a sleepless night. Early the next morning an armed
group of Volkssturm recruits appeared and ordered us to line
up. Many of us fled immediately and disappeared: many others had
stayed in the town and hidden in the ruins. We were put into a column together with
many women, and under heavy guard we
were led out of the town and
across the Elbe. The dream of freedom had been brief, and
we were prisoners again!
One of the SS men. an
Oberscharführer from Vienna
named Mauser, had put on a prisoners
uniform. He was seized and shot on the spot. We marched for a long
time in an unknown direction. We noticed that the Germans were preparing to
resist and fortifying the access road to the bridges. After several hours of marching, we stopped
at a tennis court to rest. The
women were separated from the men. Two large trucks full of the weak
and the sick, including Dubin's son, also arrived. I was standing next
to a certain 0. Fain. Fortunately I left this spot to gather
kindling. At that moment the English and the Americans flew over us
and bombarded us heavily. Shots hailed down from all
directions. There was screaming and weeping everywhere. Our guards disappeared. and the place
was full of
victims. O. Fein and
the very popular Dr. May had been smashed to pieces. Many
women had also been wounded.
comrade Mrs. Betty Segall lay on the ground screaming, her foot
shattered. I was so disoriented,
that I couldn't give her any help. A long time later I still
suffered from remorse. and I couldn't free myself of it until
I had heard that Mrs. Segall was well again.
We left about
thirty to forty dead and wounded comrades behind on the tennis
court. It looked just like a
battlefield. The rest of us were gathered together anew and forced
to march on.
From town to
town, we were handed over to new Volkssturm recruits, and nobody
actually knew what our destination
was. En route, my comrades Scheftel and Sienitzki also
disappeared, which I regretted very much. The trucks for the weak
and the sick were commanded by the former physician Hirschowitz
from Estonia. I too was put into one of the transports. As we were driving down a broad avenue the English bombarded us, and
even a large white flag did not
save us. Once again, I survived by
pure chance. We had eight victims
in our group. At last we reached a
railroad station where the
Volkssturm recruits handed us
over to SS people. The next morning we made a detour around Berlin
and arrived at the Oranienburg station.
Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp (Oranienburg)
Oranienburg is the main station of Sachsenhausen. On the morning we arrived we
immediately received a visit from the English bomber pilots; it
was clear that they were
growing more and more impudent. They flew quite low and attacked
the arriving passenger trains with machine guns that could be seen
with the naked eye. Our transport was not spared. We ran in all
directions into the open fields, and so did our "brave heroes",
the SS guards. Some of us used the opportunity to make their way
back to the town and hide there. When it grew quieter, we gathered
together again in our freight cars and traveled a short distance
further to Sachsenhausen. Here we stood for a long time. We men
were ordered to leave the train and the women stayed inside. We
waited until a large group of women from Sachsenhausen arrived at
the station. They took the places we had vacated in the train
which was to go on to the Ravensburg concentration camp. The newly
arrived women met a great many acquaintances and even relatives
among the women who had arrived with us. The joy of reunion was
very moving; there were tears and kisses. These were women from
Lodz, and all
of them had
passed though the Auschwitz camp.
Guarded by SS men, we now marched on to our new lodgings.
On the way we noticed many beautiful houses, veritable palaces, in
which the murderers of Sachsenhausen were residing
their families. We now came to a large gate reminiscent of the
Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.
That is where the Sachsenhausen concentration camp began. At the
gate there was a small registration room, and in the middle
of it stood a cocked machine gun.
Sachsenhausen made a
tremendous impression on us. It was one of the largest camps in
Germany and had the same status as Dachau and Buchenwald.
There were huge barracks everywhere, and "the big oven" dominated the whole picture from afar. In
my time the camp housed 32,000 people. There were only a few Jews
among them, and the Jews tried as best they could to
conceal their race.
We marched into a semicircular square. There were huge
printed announcements everywhere.
Some of them have stayed in my memory: "Work liberates! Its
milestones are: work. diligence. discipline, obedience, love of the fatherland,
the joy of self-sacrifice" and so on. We were registered and
received new prisoners' numbers. My number, which also became my
last name, was: Prisoner No. 124529. As usual, we were led to the
delousing station and received
different striped rags. Everything was done in great haste
and, for the first time, quietly. We
could see that the
administrators were very nervous. We were led into a special
barrack that was completely enclosed, round about and above, in
wire netting. It was like being in a huge chicken coop.
Inside there was nothing to sit or sleep on. We sat on the floor
and hung around all day in the narrow courtyard, into which a few sunbeams fell. We were
not allowed to leave
this cage, so we were in a locked prison. Nobody took care of us.
Nobody thought of feeding us at all. We heard that we
would not be sent to work for the time being. Up to that time the
prisoners had mainly been sent to work in the large Heinkel
airplane factory nearby. At the factory there was a special
barrack with its own set of guards. Its inmates were never allowed
to come out and were already destined for eternity. It turned out
that this barrack contained a small printing works. The Germans
were trying to "defeat" the English by producing colossal
amounts of counterfeit English banknotes there so that they could
cause a devaluation of English currency.
In the evenings there was the usual roll call. We stood
lined up in our small, narrow courtyard.
There was no
supper, so we had to go to bed hungry. It was 18 April 1945, my
life passed before me like a dream;
painfully, I thought of my whole family and regretted that I
was still alive
at all, that I alone had survived and had not shared my relatives'
We sat down on the floor of our
barrack, so close together that if you wanted to go outside in
the dark it was impossible to find a way out. There was not
enough room for everyone, but the crafty guards found a solution.
Large, long tables were brought in, and one group would sleep on
top of them while another group lay underneath. These were the
clever inventions of
sadists. Every day new people were brought to join us. The only
place left to put them was the
courtyard. Fortunately, it was already getting warmer. The
following evening we received our first rations, which meant we
hadn't had anything to eat for nearly two days. We were very weak, dragging our feet
as we walked.
On the third day there were more new arrivals. This made us
suspect that our liberators were very close by. By then I was no longer interested in
anything; all I wanted was to eat. That night, planes dropped a number of bombs near the camp. They
spared us again, for they knew that here tens of thousands of
people were waiting to be liberated. At four in the morning a
general restlessness became evident in the entire camp. A German
SS man who knew Polish came to us. He announced, "The camp will be evacuated in
an unspecified direction: rows must be formed five abreast, a thousand men to a column:
food for four days will be handed out. Everyone must take his
place in a column according to his nationality. Those who are sick
or believe they won't survive a long march can stay here. They
will be collected and taken
away later on."
What to do? I was weak but I didn't want to stay with the sick
people under any circumstances, for they would certainly be "taken care of".
I decided to muster up the last of my strength and go along. Next
I had to think about which column I ought to join. It seemed
dangerous to go with the Jews, for they would certainly share the
fate of the sick. Since I spoke Polish, I thought the best course
for me would be to join the Polish column. So, together with a few
other Jewish comrades, I smuggled myself into their ranks. The
Poles noticed this and tried to throw me out. I explained in the
purest Polish that I was half-Polish, which reassured them. We heard
screams and shots in the distance. The clothing depots and all the workshops were being looted. Thick smoke was
pouring out of the chimneys of the
Now it was our column's turn, and we marched out of the
camp. Before we did so, each
person received a whole loaf of bread and a piece of Tilsit
cheese. We were happy, overjoyed. A whole loaf of bread! How long it had been since we had
held a whole loaf of bread in our
hands! I had
wished for this for years!
Thus we left the cruel concentration camp that is known to
the world as Sachsenhausen. We
The Road to Freedom (Liberation)
We marched out through the great gate of the Sachsenhausen camp.
Many SS men in uniform who had been assigned to the individual
marching columns were already waiting for us on the other side.
One column after another began to move. They traveled along a
great variety of
routes, but all of
them had the same destination: Rostock. I no longer thought about
all. I only held my loaf of bread, which was my food ration for
four days, in my trembling hands and gradually I began to eat it. Because of my raging
hunger I couldn't stand to wait any longer, and it was impossible for me to save these
provisions for later. I had to strengthen myself in order to
survive; if I hadn't, I would have simply fallen over. I marched
and I ate, looking neither left nor right. Slowly my strength
seemed to return, and I felt that perhaps I would make it after all.
We knew nothing about recent political events, but we realized
clearly that the situation was very tense. The SS divisions forced
us to march between fifteen and
a day; time seemed precious.
In the mornings it was still cold, but by noon it became
warmer, sometimes even hot. We
threw away all the blankets and similar things we had with us to
lighten our loads. The whole road was already covered with the things
discarded by the columns marching ahead of us. I replaced a few of
my things with other ones and wound a towel around my head. On the
way we met comrades who had collapsed. They were lying in the
roadside ditches and waiting to
be picked up.
Many of them had already died.
During the day there were several breaks. Fires were made, and
those who had organized potatoes for themselves tried to roast them. It was by no
means easy to light a fire, for we
hardly knew where we should get the wood for it. Most people
teamed up in groups to cook their potatoes. In the evening we were forced into a barn,
or we stayed in the open fields. The earth was damp, and so were our striped clothes. People
tried to warm themselves against
each other. In the effort. many fell asleep forever, and our
guards' attempts to wake them with truncheons and gunshots were in vain.
They were asleep forever, and nobody saw to it that they were buried. Because the whole road was covered with
people in striped uniforms. we
called our march the "March of the Dead". One died sooner, the
other later, and hardly anyone was able to survive. The rations
provided by the SS were very meager: two or three potatoes a
day. They gave us nothing more. Sometimes we saw whole mountains
of sugar-beets and potatoes in the fields, but the SS men did not allow us to
go near them. Every expedition
toward them resulted in some of us being killed. But punishment
meant little to us, for we
knew we had to
die one way or another.
Once on this
march we came upon a dead horse. The people marching ahead
of us had already torn out large chunks of flesh. We didn't rest
till we had organized the remains for ourselves, whatever the
cost. We cut all of it into small pieces, roasted them over a
lire, and thus had an
unhoped-for meal of meat.
Several days later we marched into a large forest. We were
ordered to stay there. All the
columns. consisting of thousands of people gathered together, and
we lay down on the ground to sleep. During the night the women's
divisions arrived from Sachsenhausen, and they were
ordered to sleep in another part of the forest. The forest was
completely international. We heard a great variety of languages, and
every nationality slept in its own section. We broke twigs from the trees to make fires. This had also been
forbidden by the murderers. There was no talk of food; we got nothing at all to eat. Water was a
further problem. Expeditions were
sent to a nearby stream to fetch water. Indescribable scenes took
place. Many people found their death in this stream. We heard
shooting from all directions. Our "protectors" would
they saw a prisoner too close to the fence.
For three days we sat in this forest in despair, with no
food. We prepared to die of starvation. But then one evening we saw the arrival of a Red Cross
truck with "Canada" written on it.
How could a
Canadian Red Cross truck have gotten there? We were absolutely
But it vanished just as unexpectedly as it had come. Less than an
hour later a whole column or Red Cross trucks arrived. We were
very excited, for we didn't know what was going on. We were told that the Americans had
heard about us and were sending us food. How they could do this in the middle of Germany was a riddle to us, but
without their help we would surely
have died. We were happy not only about the packages but also
about the fact that people cared about our fate, that we were no longer alone. Until
then we hadn't known what they would do with the Jews and whether
there was a plan to save us too. But the Americans made no exceptions, so each of us got a package. They
distributed the packages themselves, for they
didn't trust the
SS people. And for our part, we made sure the SS people got
opened our presents, and I couldn't believe my eyes. Everything
was there, from chocolate and various canned goods to dried milk
powder. But the thing we were most interested in,
bread, was missing: there were only some cookies. I hadn't seen
such delicious things for years, and for years I hadn't felt so satisfied. Once
again I was ahead of the others with my optimism. No, we would surely survive! I lay there all
night chewing and, unlike my
again I saved nothing for later.
In the meantime some Red Cross ambulances had also arrived, and
they gathered up the weak people. On my shoulders I carried my
comrade Stameskin from Riga, who was in a very bad condition, to
the place for the sick people. In the forest I met the notorious
murderer and prisoner from the Kaiserwald concentration camp in
Riga, Bolek, who had killed the Riga police chief Haar and murdered
various people in the recuperation block (Block No. 2). There I
also saw our tormentors from Magdeburg, the sadists Hoffmann and
Schuller, again. They
always together. Even the Viennese
Oberscharführer of the
"long tour" work crew in Magdeburg, turned up.
Suddenly an order was given: Everyone line up as before in closed
columns for the onward march! Wrapped in my rags, with a scarf and
a blanket on my head, I dragged myself forward. I looked like a
real Moslem. We passed villages and small towns. There was panic
destruction everywhere. We were told that the inhabitants were
running toward the Americans: people were also saying that the Russians were
already pressing on Berlin. In the
forest we even saw the evacuated Berlin Fire Department with all
its equipment. Everything was moving in blind confusion. A column
of Russians wearing German SS uniforms also marched past us. These were the
notorious traitors, the wlasowcy. They offered us cigarettes
but we didn't accept them, for we wanted nothing to do with
them. Members of the
also on the road, for everyone was afraid of the Russians.
Already we had nearly forgotten the good times. Hunger tormented
us anew. We got nothing at all from "our hosts". We were
living on nothing but the few potatoes we managed to
scavenge. People were dropping like flies. Many decided to escape.
Further along the march we again received food packages from the
Americans, but this time it was only one package for every four people. It was hard to distribute the food
among starving people. One person would receive the package, and
three others would run after him. He would disappear into the
so the others would get no food. There was screaming and moaning
The SS men were very nervous and would reach for their
weapons on the least pretext. At night they chased our column into a stable. It was dark and
there wasn't enough room for
everyone. Together with my comrade Chait I stayed in the
courtyard. The SS people decided that we were trying to escape. Chait
disappeared as fast as he could into the stable. The SS
men grabbed me,
dragged me off to the side, and were about to get rid of me. My
that I had stayed outside only because there was no room inside
did not help me at all. They beat me horribly and put me against
the wall to be shot. I felt the final minutes of my life
approaching. The night was splendid, the moon was shining with
especial beauty, and it was infinitely difficult for me to part from all of it. The SS
man shot over my head, whether
intentionally or not I didn't know. In any case, he asked me where
my comrade was. By then he was lying inside near the entrance. I
pretended I was going to look for him in the stable and
the crowd. And so that incident ended.
The next morning we had to march on. We passed a large airfield
where a great many damaged German planes were standing. The German soldiers on
the airfield obviously had no commanding officers, for people were
wandering around in all directions. My comrades threw themselves
into the roadside ditch to escape. In the evening we reached a
small wood on a peninsula and prepared to sleep there. Here there
was water and wood. We made fires, but the wind and the cold kept
us from sleeping. The ground was damp and we had nothing to lie
I was already totally exhausted, and I decided to end this
torture the next day, come what may.
In the morning we marched on. We reached the town of
Parchim. There we received, for the first time in a long time,
some hot coffee from the kettles of the Wehrmacht. The
civilian population threw us rotten potatoes to eat. Like everyone
else, I flung myself on the potatoes and fell directly into one of these
piles of potatoes. Because they were totally rotten and by then were nothing but stinking mush. I got myself
completely filthy and gained nothing. The
SS men beat us
with their rifle butts to get us into line again. Then we marched
This was on 1 May 1945. The sun was shining beautifully. Suddenly
a truck full of Russian prisoners came into view and drove slowly
past. I greeted them and congratulated them on the international
holiday. I could scarcely walk. So I lagged behind till I was the
last one in our row, and then I threw myself into the roadside
came up to me, gave me
a kick, and
assumed I was already dead, so he left me lying there.
When the column had disappeared, I crept out and crawled into a
nearby wood. Was I really free? I was still surrounded by enemies. I went deeper
into the wood in order to rest a little but I couldn't sleep, for
the thought of my liberty gave me no rest. In the distance I heard
voices and saw a fire. Next to it stood three young men: they too
were prisoners from the columns who had stayed behind. They received me in a very
friendly way, but they were not
really reassured until I started to speak to them in Russian. They
were Russians from the concentration camp and had already been
there for several days. They had scavenged potatoes and were
cooking a Russian borscht for themselves, using the
potatoes and some grass. After
the meal they
I was in a desperate situation. I didn't dare to enter the nearby
village because of my clothes. Then I saw a cart in the field: on
it was a farmer wearing the sign "P" (for Pole). I went up
to him and explained my situation to him in Polish. I asked
him to help me, the main thing being
to get me different clothes. He told me to meet him the same day
in a large hay barn. He arrived at the agreed-upon time with a loaf of bread and a
suit. I embraced him for joy. He told me we were surrounded
in all directions by the English and the Americans, and that the
Russians were nearby too. I spent the whole night in the hay barn
and ate my loaf of bread, even though I wasn't hungry at all. For the first time, I
thought about my future. I was sure I would be liberated during the next few days. All night long
I heard shooting all around me.
This meant that the retreating German army was destroying various
items of military
In the morning white flags were already hanging in the
village. People were waiting for the
victors to arrive. I realized that now I could enter the village.
I waited for my liberators with impatience. They arrived very
soon. When I saw the first one, I embraced him and kissed him, full of
Was I now free?
Yes, now I
was truly free!
But I couldn't believe that after years of imprisonment I
was free again at last. Initially I
wasn't happy about my fate at all, for what was I supposed to do
now? My wife was dead, my son was dead, my next of kin and my friends had all been
killed, my possessions had been destroyed and stolen! Alone, sick,
weak and old, how was I supposed to build my future?
What was I to do
now with my freedom?
What I most wanted was to be destroyed together with the
whole world and dissolve into dust
But I gathered together my courage, following my inner voice, for
I had been given back to
life - and now I
would go on with my life toward the unknown future.
(Excerpt Based on Other
On 17 October
1944 a part of the Riga transport (about 100 people). headed by
Mischa Glücksmann, was taken
from Stutthof to Danzig. Equipped with new prisoners uniforms, the
prisoners were sent directly from the washroom onto the steamship. On 23
October 1944 the second transport (about 500 people) was
put together and sent to Danzig under the commandership of the
former head of the ghetto labor authority, Kassel.
Among these Jews were some from Latvia and Lithuania and a
few from Germany. From
Danzig the two transports moved on to Burggraben, where they lived
in small log cabins. Later they were joined by more Jews to strengthen the
commando, so that the total number, including the women,
eventually reached 1,600. The last arrivals were former inmates of
Auschwitz - Hungarian, Greek, and other Jews. The camp
Glücksmann, was the top commander. He slapped Kassel, who was a
decent human being, and appointed him to be a block representative. Because
Glücksmann had a sadistic nature,
our situation grew much worse under his leadership. He chose the
Pole Charnek, who was also
to assist him.
The work station of the people in this barracks camp was
about 15 kilometers from Danzig,
and the Jews had to work in two twelve-hour shifts (day and night)
in the Schichau shipyard. Because of the poor food and the heavy
labor, there were numerous cases of illness and death.
The cause was
The physicians Dr. Sick from Liepaja and Dr. Levi from
Berlin worked in the camp infirmary.
Dr. Sick is
already known to the reader from the chapter on the Kaiserwald
camp, but I
would like to say a few more words about his self-sacrificing work
in Burggraben. Although he had himself been weakened by the
continuous hardships and privations, as well as a heart condition,
it is thanks to his knowledge and abilities that hundreds of
At the end of 1944 and 1945, when epidemics such as
typhus, dysentery and so on broke out in Burggraben, he played down the sicknesses in his
reports to the SS camp administrators and falsified the
statistics. Had he not done so, the camp would have been put into
quarantine, as happened to so many others. The camp's inmates would then
have been cut off from the
outside world and
left to their certain death by starvation.
Damje from Liepaja and Dvinsk worked in the women's infirmary.
On 10 February 1945, as the front inexorably approached,
the Jews were evacuated from the camp toward Lauenburg. Once
again, many comrades lost their lives in this evacuation because
of weakness and illness. Among the people I knew who died were:
Abram Lazer, Jascha Sobolewitz. Herzenberg, Bahn, Josif Misroch,
Benze Liwschütz, the prominent young composer
Liwschütz, Ika Basch,
Jonnv Westermann, the popular Vilna athlete Abramowitz,
from Vilna and a large number of others.
The rest were liberated by the Russians on 10 March 1945. The comrades Weiner
Jewnowitz and Ch.
Kahn died one hour before the liberation.
During the liberation one of the prisoners (whose name is
unknown) called out when he saw the Russians: "Tovarishchi!"
(Comrades!) and fell over dead. A boy from Riga named
reportedly among the liberators (in the Red Army).
After the liberation there were still more victims, namely those
who died in the Lauenburg
hospital: Oskar Lutrin, Israel Itkin, Mehr and Gendl
Among those who
were liberated were: Dr. Klebanow, Dr. Sick, the lawyer
Lewinsohn, Schelkan..Arnow-Aronsohn, Solomir, Perelmann, Dr. Schwab (from
Liepaja), Moses Ratz and his son, the Chaim brothers, Max
Finkelstein, Benjamin Edelstein, Salomon Gutkin, the Pulvermachers
(father and son), the Gutmann siblings, Brün and others. The
survivors from Vilna included David Pergament, the jeweler
Liwschitz and others.
From Riga via
the Stutthof-Buchenwald-Zeitz-Remersdorf Concentration Camps to
Theresienstadt and Freedom
(Excerpt Based on Other Reports)
The large transport that left Riga on 6 August 1944 on the
steamship Bremerhaven included thousands of Jewish men and women.
Among them were Latvian, Lithuanian, German and
Czech Jews. They were first taken to Danzig and from there to
Stutthof in smaller ships. They did not stay there long, for they
soon had to make room for new arrivals. Most of them were
taken to the Buchenwald concentration camp. Among those who stayed
in Stutthof were the dentist Berniker, the lawyer ltkin and his sons, and many
young girls who worked for the local
Those who were sent to Buchenwald had to spend a three-week
quarantine period in a tent camp. They lay directly in the dirt, and there was no
opportunity whatsoever to wash
themselves. One noontime during these weeks, the Americans
bombarded the nearby Gustloff works (which lay 100 meters from the
camp). More than 1,500 prisoners were killed in this
nearby SS barrack was also bombed, and in this attack more than
300 people were killed.
bombardment old Professor Mintz, who had had to do heavy labor in
the concentration camp, was
moved to the clinic.
In the meantime the entire transport was divided into
three sections. One section was sent to Zeitz-Remersdorf. a smaller section to Bochum, and the rest
stayed in the Buchenwald
Zeitz-Remersdorf, which was quite close by, was a large
labor camp that was part of the Buchenwald concentration camp. The
number of Jewish prisoners there was over 4,000. In the summer they lived in tents in Zeitz, and in the winter in
unhygienic stone barracks in
Remersdorf. The living conditions were wretched, and the rations
extremely meager. The prisoners worked in the Brabag works (brown
coal and synthetic petroleum). People died like
flies, and the weak ones were sent to Buchenwald to be gassed.(8)
Buchenwald then sent back new prisoners, who were Jews from
Hungary. Among the Latvian Jews one saw the lawyer Wittenberg, Kaim, the Koelmann
brothers, Dr. Goldring, Dr. Rogalin, Dr. Weinreich and others. The doctors survived. but all the others died. The
doctors practically sacrificed
order to ease their co-religionists' fate. Dr. Gittelsohn also
As the Americans were approaching this area, the camp was
liquidated. Everyone was awakened in the night, forced into
cattle cars and transported further to Theresienstadt. The sick people. who came in special freight cars, were to be
transported to Buchenwald. Their
later fate is unknown, but in any case they did not survive. They
included Moses Scherman, J.
Sener and others.
that traveled to Theresienstadt was literally a funeral
procession. Of the 3,500 persons in it, only 750 arrived alive;
all the others died on the way. Typhus was raging in
Theresienstadt during this period,
so the small number of survivors was reduced further.
Theresienstadt was a large ghetto containing mainly Austrian and
Czech Jews. If I am not mistaken, at that time it was the only
remaining ghetto, for the Germans had made an exception and not
liquidated it in order to give the world the impression that
existed. It was a
transit ghetto, and so its inhabitants changed frequently.
In 1941 Jews were sent from there to Riga and later on to
Auschwitz and Majdanek to be
exterminated. Theresienstadt even had its own money. A large
percentage of the inmates succumbed to the typhus epidemic at that time, but the
authorities had no interest whatsoever
in taking any
measures against it.
On 8 May 1945 the prisoners were liberated by the
Russians. Among the liberated Latvian
Alexander Westermann (who was prominent in the textile industry).
The Jews who had been sent to Bochum (about 500 people) had
to work in a munitions
factory. Their living conditions were very bad. On 4 November 1944
this factory was bombed by the English. Among those who died in this
bombardment were two Latvian Jews (one of
them was the
dental technician Jesil from Liepaja).
The death rate
in the Bochum barracks camp was very high. As the Americans were
approaching, there were
only a few left, and they were transported back to Buchenwald.
The Jews who had remained in Buchenwald had a very bad time
of it. They were forced to do
especially hard labor, including work in the stone quarries there.
Many of the new arrivals from Riga died there, including Professor Mintz. The former
ghetto police chief, the German Jew Frankenberg, was
gassed. The Jews, who had not forgotten his role in the weapons
and other actions, made sure that he died.
The evacuation of Buchenwald began on 7 April 1944. The
departure was scheduled for early morning, and the columns started
to march together with the Jews who had returned from
Bochum. While the people were going out through the gate, more
than 100 prisoners were
shot dead. These were the weak ones who were in no condition to be
transported. The others
had to march
about 30 kilometers a day toward the Dachau concentration camp.
march" claimed numerous victims. According to our comrades'
reports, those who
included: the Karaimskis (father and son), Zalkind, Isaaksohn. Izia
Kaplan, Schapiro, the Amburg brothers, Berner, Wulf Ritow, the Minsker brothers, Max
Kahn, Dr. Salitan, Zacharow,
Saminski, Slawin, Zibin, Willy Weide, the engineers Schugall,
Abram Baran, Kocin, Axelrod, Mendelsohn, Michelsohn, Gabi
the Krüger brothers, Balkin, Plonski, Schemer, Dr. Jakobsogn,
Benja Gurwitz, Gordon, Sioma Gurwitz, the
dentists Medin and Heimann, Schitlowski, the musicians Bernin and Karam,
Among the Jews from Dvinsk who died were: Safro, Safir, 0jguston, Gafanowitz, Karasik,
the engineer Rosin, Dordik, Codek, Joelsohn and Skutelski. The Jews from Libau who died
were: Rolow, Westermann, Ephraim Simson and
Among the Jews
from Ventspils, use dead included the Mendelsohn brothers and many
The march lasted fifteen days.
this march, only a very
small handful of people survived until the liberation.
The Dachau Concentration Camp (Excerpt Based on Other Reports)
Jews who arrived at Dachau in the transport from Riga were those
who had been evacuated earlier from the Dünawerke, Spilve and other
Riga barracks camps. They had first been sent to work in Ponewesch
in Lithuania. As the front approached, they were sent on from
together with the Lithuanian Jews.
In view of the short time they spent as prisoners in Dachau, an
extraordinarily large number of them died of murder and weakness.
According to our comrades' reports, the Latvian Jews who died included:
Israil Mehr, Jakob Mehr,
Friedrich Schapiro, Elias Smitzkowitz, Solomon Latz, Joseph Lewin,
Simon Swirski, Kalman Michailowitz, the Jownowitz
brothers, Nathan Minsker, Joel Isakowitz, Max Karp, Simon
Leiter, Wulf and Chaim Kaplan,
Ber Glück, Fajwusch Zak, Josef Sichelmann, Hirsch Lewenstein,
Meilach and his son, Wulf
Lewenstein, Ephraim Kagan, Abram Katz, Paul Schadel, Sch.
Königsfest, Grünholz, Abram Matis, David Kremer, Jakob Judelsohn,
L. Günzburg, Eliezer
Lewin and others.
The Day of
Commemoration (Jorzait) in the Riga Synagogue (Tenth Day of the
Month of Kislev)
The streets leading into the Old Town swarm with people.
The Jews are streaming toward the
large synagogue in Peitavas Street. People are getting lost in the
ruins of the Old Town, and
it's difficult to
find the way.
Long before the scheduled time, the narrow Peitavas Street
is full of Jews who can be seen
here again for
the first time after a pause of five years.
The heads of the Latvian inhabitants can be seen
everywhere in the windows of the neighboring houses. Their faces
wear a shocked expression. They
only too clearly that they are
to blame for everything that is happening here now. They had
that nobody would remain alive, and that nobody would be able to
bear witness to the local people's actions.
large Peitavas Street synagogue stands forlorn, waiting for the
revival of Jewish Riga.
This synagogue has survived not because the enemy wanted
to spare it: it has survived merely
because the neighboring houses stand so close to it that a fire in
the synagogue would have
The outside of the synagogue
has not suffered as much as its interior, the inside of the
synagogue has lost all its
magnificence, and everything in it has disappeared except
for one small bench.
oroin koidesch (holy shrine) and even the walls have been
desecrated by the hands of the
I climb the
few steps leading to the synagogue and stay there for a while. I
am moved to go down to the
bet hamidrot:(house of prayer) in the cellar where I
prayed when I was a young man, and
where the late Riga rabbi Sack taught the Schiur. or Talmud. There
destroyed and nothing remains.
I remember Cantor Abramis. who for many years thrilled
Jewish hearts here with his beautiful
On this day the Jews are meeting here to weep over their
sorrows and meditate on the best and
most beautiful of
what they have lost.
comrades from camps and concentration camps who tell me about
their various experiences.
They also report on many people who died in Germany after the
because of their
weakness, or who are still in hospitals battling with death.
I also see Jews who have returned from the Soviet Union. But the Jews I used
to meet in my
daily life and
business rounds are no longer there.
The largest proportion of Jews present are from our
eastern provinces, who had the possibility of fleeing from the
enemy. I ask about one or another person. None of them is there.
murderous war has claimed countless victims.
Numerous graves of Latvian Jews lie near Moscow (Lenino),
and still more near StarajaRussa. These Jewish heroes protected
Moscow from the enemy with their own bodies, and
thus gave another
glorious chapter to history.
Now they lie still in their graves and are known as the heroes of
the Latvian Guard division. They have lost their Jewish names,
which are not publicly mentioned and thus the wordd does
not know they
gallery above is full to bursting. The women are already weeping
even before they cross the
threshold of the synagogue. They also weep before the cantor has
or prayer of
People weep as they greet each other. They no longer ask
about one or another person, for
hardly any one
has survived anyway. Among the women are a great many young widows.
Many men and women are in uniform. One sees very
high-ranking Jews. and those who have
demobilized are still wearing their uniforms.
looks very poor, as if a war were over.
This is the Riga
This is not only
Riga but most of the Jewish Latvian community!
Whether great or
small, all of them are here.
And the Jewish kibbutz (community) of Latvia, which once
was so large and beautiful, can
today easily fit
into the only synagogue that has survived.
I am one of the
who know when Kaddish has to be said. Most of them don't
rabbi (who was saved in Riga but is not a native of the city)
climbs to the chancel next
to the oroin koidesch.
The synagogue is
as quiet as a tomb. The rabbi tries to speak but his voice is
choked by tears.
The people in the
gallery and below sob and weep and cannot calm down.
The rabbi begins
his sermon. He thanks God the Almighty for the fact that Jews can
gather together in the city that was supposed to be "free of Jews".
He thanks the liberators
He touches upon our great tragedy, but a new storm of pain
that breaks out among all of those present prevents him for a time
from going on with his sermon. He tells of the great martyrdom of the Jewish kibbutz of Latvia, and goes
on to speak of the native Latvian
played a great role in our destruction.
We simply cannot believe that the people who had grown up
with us and lied with us looked
upon our great
misfortune so pitilessly and even increased it.
The rabbi lifts up his hands to the Almighty. He prays to
Him for retribution for all the spilled blood of our holy ones. When he has finished, the whole
assembly weeps and shouts with a
A few more people speak about our great misfortune, but it
cannot be described: only the few
We knew only too well that our dearest and best, our
wives, children and husbands, our
mothers. sisters and brothers are now in Rumbula, Bikernieki and
We know just as well that the ashes of the people dearest
to us have been scattered
all over the
fields of Latvia.
us, all of Latvia is a huge cemetery - a cemetery without graves or gravestones.
The cantor sings "Keil
molei rachmim", the prayer of remembrance.
People weep and weep endlessly.
The Hazkoro, or funeral service, is over.
is collected for wire so that the places where our departed ones
found their eternal rest
can be fenced in.
No macejwo (memorial stone) exists for them,
because our Jewish kibbutz: in Latvia has
grown poor and
cannot afford such a "luxury".
Quietly and calmly, with tear-stained faces, people leave the synagogue. On
its walls people have pasted notes hearing questions from all parts of the world: "We are looking for...we
looking for...we are looking for..."
there is only one answer to these questions: "None of them survivedy"
As we leave the synagogue, we notice that
everyone is in a hurry to leave
the dark streets of the Old
We walk through the city of Riga, which has already become
alien to us. For those who were
here during the
German occupation, every foot of its soil is soaked with Jewish
cannot, and may not, live in this hostile environment any longer.
We have to move
cannot and may not stay here!
At the conclusion of my hook Churbn Lettland,
I would like to ask the reader to consider the following: having
tried to give a true and detailed account of every phase of the
sufferings we Latvian Jews had to endure, I hope I have succeeded in
giving as clear a picture of our tragedy as possible. Yet I must call attention to the fact that
the events I have related began in early 1941, that
quite a while ago, and that in the absence of any notes or diary
entries I had to
reconstruct them from memory under circumstances that were difficult
in every respect.
I might mention furthermore that in writing my book I received hardly any
assistance at all from my Latvian comrades.
Therefore, if any errors have slipped in, or if I have expressed
myself in improper diction, I beg the reader's indulgence since, as
I already mentioned in the
Foreword, I am not
a professional writer.
But what I
really am is a man who has shared, step by step, the martyrdom of his countrymen and
co-religionists, and who has while writing this book experienced
all those sufferings anew in his mind.
So my whole
downcast heart is contained in it!
My duty is fulfilled. I have done my part to secure immortality for the six
million Jews, valuable and irreplaceable human beings, and in
particular for our Latvian martyrs whom we
have lost to
the utmost cruelty because of the murderous system of National
Of the approximately 95.000 Jews living in Latvia at the
time of the invasion by German
troops, only a very small percentage was able to escape from Latvia.
In most cases, this was possible only to those living in the eastern
province (Latgale), where the Russian frontier was
very near. This is also confirmed by the fact that the Jews now
returning from the Soviet Union are chiefly people from Latgale.
Jews from Riga and the province of Kurzeme can
hardly be found any more.
Under the German government, about 40,000 Jews remained in
Riga and about 33,000 in Latgale and Kurzeme. (With few exceptions,
all the Jews of Kurzeme and Vidzente had remained.) Of the total
number of Jews living under German-Latvian rule (about 73,000), only between 950 and 1,000 persons, including
175 to 200 women and about fifty older children, were able to survive. All the others had been bestially
killed, most of them in Latvia and the remaining ones later in
Germany. Even after the liberation, many more died of weakness and
diseases. Nearly all the graves arb unmarked, and may he
traced front Latvia down to the
western border of
kibbutz, or Jewish community, of today is composed mostly of
returnees from the Soviet Union.
But in my opinion, this number too is very small (about 14,000 in
the whole of
An influx of Jews to Riga and Latvia in general is coming
chiefly from Russia (even from Leningrad and Ukraine). The 8,000
Jews who are still missing - that is, who have not returned from the Soviet Union - perished in the war or from the
effects of war. (The Jews who
emigrated to the
Soviet Union before the war are not included in this number.)
The young men and women who went to the Soviet Union were enlisted
for military service. The Latvian Division was composed of these
people, who later were awarded the name "Latvian Guards Division" as
a mark of distinction. They participated in the defense of
Moscow, and according to reports there were more Jews than Latvians
among them. There were also many Jews among the officers. They fought and
died like heroes. Because this division was generally regarded as a
Latvian unit, the world of course knows little of the Jewish
fighters. But we Latvian Jews cannot and never will forget them!
Among the returnees there was also a large number of people who had
fought in this division: most
them had been
decorated and many of them were invalids.
The approximately 1,000 Jews who "happened" to have
survived the German occupation survived only thanks to the rapid
evolution of events. If the war had lasted only one or two months longer,
it may be taken for granted that not a few hundred but only a few
would still be alive, for the Germans and Latvians had always
intended to annihilate all of them in order to remove possible
witnesses. For this reason. corpses were even disinterred and
A partisan movement did not exist among the Latvian Jews,
as it did in other ghettos. Moreover, the number of people
who went into hiding was very small. Every undertaking, for
instance the weapons incident in the ghetto, had a bad outcome and
was unsuccessful. These facts are accounted for by the attitude of the indigenous
population which worked hand in
hand with the
That is the history
of the Latvian Jews!
Besides, Jews from all parts of the world were brought to
Latvia - for instance Germany,
Austria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Holland, France, Lithuania and
Poland. Their exact number can no longer be determined. About 20,000 men, women
and children were brought
to the Reich German ghetto and to Jumpravmuiza. All the others were
transported directly from the railway station to the forest where
they were shot. They had been brought to Latvia because "Latvia was
the appropriate venue for these murders", as General Jeckeln
Moreover, the Latvians formed volunteer battalions which contributed
to the annihilation of the Jews in the countries outside Latvia. They also
participated, as has been ascertained, in the destruction of the ghettos in Warsaw, Minsk (White
Russia), Minsk-Mazowiecki (Poland) and other cities. They took part in all the punitive
expeditions in and outside Latvia (L. Krasaps,
- Memoranda of a Public Prosecutor,
Vapp, Riga 1946).
These events are also confirmed in detail by
documents in the files of the great Nuremberg
one of these documents it is said that
the 15th Latvian Police Battalion took part in an
action in White Russia called Marsfever. Other
documents of the same trial (Document No.
1113/P.S. of 6
November 1942 and 294/P.S.) report on various murders of Jews.
The chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg Court, Mr. Benjamin
Fernetsch, declared officially that
"according to the proofs on hand, the natives of the Baltic states
eagerly participated in the
mass murders and therefore could hardly have remained in
their homeland afterwards".
With respect to the crimes of the Latvian bandits, I want
to refer furthermore to the
declarations of the SS man Alfred Metzner of Augsburg, Bavaria, who
was arrested in September 1947. This murderer has, among other
confessions, related how the Latvian volunteer teams, led by SS-Untersturmführer
Amelung, took part in the annihilation of
thousands of Jews
in the vicinity of Slonim-Baranowitz.
The Jews taken to the place of execution were first brutally beaten and then
they were then
thrown into the graves. The children were kicked into the graves.
Some participants of the annihilation teams excelled in
specific, sadistic monstrosities. For instance, for their own enjoyment they shot pregnant women
in the abdomen and then flung
them into the
graves. Before the execution, the sexual organs and the rectum were
is how we were treated by the Latvian culture of the twentieth
We shall never forget the crimes the German people perpetrated against us, nor shall we
forget how the
Latvian people behaved toward us.
ascher oso lcho
Amolek!" (Remember what the Amalekites
have done to you!
For us survivors, Latvia is the embodiment of a
large graveyard, a graveyard without graves, a graveyard
(added by Dr. Bernhard Press)
(1) The lawyer Alfons
Heidemann was shot together with his brother-in-law Otto Sehas on
the night of 20 July 1941 in the Tornakalna Priedes (Tornakalna
Pines), a grove near Uzvaras Laukums (Victory Square).
(2) The Friedmann
family killed themselves with morphine injections. I saw them lying
in a room at the Jewish hospital.
(3) Joffe's last
audience consisted of inmates of the Central Prison who heard him
sing to them at an open window as they were being taken out for a
walk in the prison yard. This was related to me by Mrs. E. Hoff.
(4) Wofsi was killed by
the KGB on 13 January 1948 in Minsk.
(5) This is an error:
there were no gas chambers in Buchenwald.
(6) See footnote 5.
(7) According to the
Latvian writer Miervaldis Birzc, 315 prisoners were killed and 1,400
(8) See footnote 5.