WALK IN MY SHOES
Collected Memories of the Holocaust
as told by Shiku Smilovic in his
autobiographical memoir "Buchenwald
The camp was operating on a day-to-day basis, food was a rare occurrence. The warehouses were emptied by the Germans into big trucks and hauled away daily. The kitchen was not functioning every day. Every second day, we receive a bowl of soup and a slice of bread. But who cared? The bombing and the loud shelling were now steady without interruption. We were going to be liberated any day now! At night we could not fall asleep because of the excitement. What have these Germans got planned for us; maybe they will destroy the whole camp just before the on-coming Americans enter this hell and see the dead bodies piled up by the thousands. They might want to destroy the evidence.
April 11, 1945, 8 a.m.
Russian P.O.W.s come running into our children's Barrack Block 8 and ordered all the kids to get on the floor adjacent to the exterior wall.
Our bunks were quickly removed from the room and they opened a trap door in the middle of the room.
A number of P.O.W.s lowered themselves with ropes below the floor and were bringing up machine guns, anti-tank guns, and grenades by the buckets. We could hear them yell in Russian, "Careful, these grenades are no joke. They are all alive, be careful!" Our hearts were pumping like crazy; what did that all mean?
After about 15 minutes, the shooting started and it sounded like we were being attacked; the smaller children were crying now, and we, the older ones, were scared to death. We heard Franta's voice: "Nothing to worry children, the shooting that you hear is from our side: they are destroying the guard posts and the SS that are within them. Within a few hours we will be able to really say that we are free." We were all relaxed and somehow a quiet moment came over us and we all burst out crying without being able to stop.
After about two hours of shooting the loudspeaker in the barrack makes an announcement: "We are Free! Our boys control the camp and the surrounding villages." We all jumped from the floor; we hugged each other and cried some more
"We are Free! We are Free!"
At about noon time the loudspeaker calls again. Attention! Attention! This is your Lagerfuhrer speaking. I just received a call from the SS chief in Weimar to fulfill the order to start destroying the camp.
I told him to go to hell. We are in charge
now! And you can go, and blow yourself up! Imagine, we found out from the
reports that all of Buchenwald Camp was undermined and we were supposed to
be blown to pieces before the surrender of the camp to the Allies. We were
relieved that we were saved from destruction.
April 11, 1945, 4 p.m.
American army tanks entered the camp through the rear of the camp wire fences. The roar of the tanks made us shiver from happiness; the tanks proceeded to roll towards the Apell Platz next to the main entrance. Everybody was running towards the American liberators, hugging and kissing them; they were practically tearing them apart. Everybody wanted to touch them and embrace them.
Tears were running freely from everyone, including the big strong black Americans. People were dancing and screaming: "We are free! We are free!" American planes were overhead dropping balloons with the American flag attached to them. The skies were full of parachutes with food supplies dropping all over the place. What a sight! People were going wild tearing the supplies apart and having a feast. Singing and crying at the same time, without realizing that their stomachs were not used to that much food.
More trucks entered through the main gates with G.I.s in full gear, most of them black and Jewish men. They just stood there in amazement, seeing people acting like hungry vultures. Within minutes they realize that these vultures were professors, scientists, doctors, lawyers, writers, poets, singers, rabbis, cantors, businessmen, tailors, plumbers, electricians, carpenters, but the German Nazis, with their brutal actions against the Jews, managed to make them all look alike. Furthermore, history will show that such brutal behaviour from a civilized people was never seen before, and may never be seen again.
The soldiers were handing out their rations to the crowd, including chocolate bars that we had not seen for a long time. They tasted like something from heaven.
We were having trouble communicating, since very few of us spoke English. A few Jewish G.I.s that spoke Yiddish were standing with a group of Jewish men. Survivors. You could hear the crying from the individuals giving them the reports. They killed my children, my brothers and sisters, the whole Shtetl. They were all lined up and shot like animals in the woods of our little town, buried in a mass grave that they had to dig for themselves. One horror story after another. The G.I.s couldn't take it any more; they walked away with their faces swollen from tears.
In the meantime, the people that ate too much were getting sick, they just lay on the ground and nobody cared, there was no order yet in camp; everyone was out for themselves.
The number of sick was rising, you could hardly move on the Apell Platz where everyone was rejoicing the liberation, and there was no control over this mass of sick and hungry people. After a couple of hours of celebrating our liberation, we were told to return to our barracks and wait for further orders from the new management. As we all left the Apell Platz it looked like a battlefield. People in the hundreds were lying on the ground, some were dead, some were sick, and some of them just asleep.
The main kitchen was opened, and food supplies were being brought in by the truckloads. Within a few hours food was being distributed and people were so wild and hungry that they attacked the food carriers and dove into the large food containers head-first, just to satisfy their hunger. They ended up sick from too much food, and were all carried away to the hospital screaming with pain. Back in our block 8, the children were singing and dancing, celebrating our liberation. Our leaders from our barrack told us about all the ammunition that was stored in our barrack by the underground special group assigned to bring small quantities of gun powder and other parts of ammunition, that was all later assembled and stored in our barrack for the final moments to liberate us before the Germans could do more harm. And they assured us that we would all go back home as soon as the war was over.
April 14, 1945
General Eisenhower and his staff arrived to inspect the camp in Buchenwald. We all ran out to greet them as they walked in through the main entrance gates. General Eisenhower and staff were shown the great piles of human bodies, piled like lumber, stacked 10 feet high.
They just stood there in amazement, their faces turned colours. General Eisenhower and his staff removed their helmets and stood there in a one minute salute for the dead.
"Who would do such a thing to human beings? I can't believe what I see." Eisenhower said He turned to his staff and gave them an order: "I want the whole city of Weimar, all men, women, and children, brought in to see this tragic site." Again, he saluted the dead and hurriedly walked away from the mass of corpses toward the main gates saying, "I had enough, I think I've seen enough today."
The next morning we saw thousands of men, woman, and children from the city of Weimar, which was only about 10km away, being herded into Buchenwald through the main gates. They were then shown all the corpses and all the killing facilities in Buchenwald, some of them couldn’t take it any longer, some fainted, some of them were holding their hands over their eyes, but the G.I.s removed their hands and told them: "Look, look good and never forget what you have seen here today. Maybe you will be able to tell your children, and grandchildren, what your beloved Fuhrer Adolf did to mankind in the twentieth century. In your fatherland, and all over Europe."
When the exhibition was completed, they were all assembled on the Apell Platz, where Rabbi Shachter, the Chaplain of the American first and second division of the liberation Army, spoke to the German population of Weimar from the top off a military truck. In his hand, Rabbi Shachter held a young Jewish boy who looked about 6 years old.
He raised the child for everyone to see and with his great voice declared: "This child was your Fuhrer's greatest enemy! Can you imagine a greater enemy?" he asked.
Their faces were stiff, frozen and ashamed, being part of this devastation. Rabbi Shachter continued and said, "This child will be a witness to your persecutions, and also a witness, that over one million Jewish children never made it." The Germans were standing with their heads bowed and murmuring to themselves. We never knew about these atrocities. Some couldn’t hold back their tears, they were crying openly. We, the survivors, were observing this show of emotions and thinking quietly. How can a people stoop so low and deny that they knew what was going on under their noses, only 10 km away? Truck drivers delivering supplies to Buchenwald daily, plus the foremen in the ammunition factories, were all Germans from the once great city of Weimar.
Since 1939, Buchenwald had been a slaughtering place for anyone opposing the Reich. German people from towns and villages were brought here and finished off, never to be seen again. And now they were confronted with reality and had the guts to say "We didn't know".
We had no sympathy for them, they rather looked very low in character to us. The child held by Rabbi Shachter is Rabbi Lowe, now Chief Rabbi in the State of Israel.
The show was over and the people were told to disperse, except for some men and women that were selected for removing the thousands of dead bodies lying all over camp. The dead bodies were then gathered on a truck and taken to the woods, where they were all buried in a mass grave.
All Jews were invited by Rabbi Shachter to attend services and to eat Matza, since it was Pesach Sheini that day. The second Pesach, for Jews that couldn't observe the holiday of Pesach at the proper date. Rabbi Shachter brought Matzos and distributed them to every one. Rabbi Shachter started to deliver his sermon, when suddenly he was interrupted by a fellow prisoner. When he heard the Rabbi say, "We know what you have gone through" The man screamed and said: "No one, but no one, can dare say that he knows what we went through unless, he or she was there! Only they can say, I know what you went through!" He continued at the top of his voice with quotes from the Torah and other scriptures. He was no plain ordinary every day Jew. He spoke with authority. "Why did G-d forget about his children? And we were devastated, just because we are Jews?" he continued. "Before we make a blessing and eat this Matza. We want a Din Torah with the REBONEH SHEL OLAM (Hold Court with the All Mighty): Why? Why the little children?
They didn't have a chance to sin yet? Why so many thousands of true dedicated Talmidei chachomim (Jewish learned men), that were sitting and learning JOMAM VLAJLA day and night? You can take your matzos back to America. I don't want them, as far as I am concerned. The rest of you: you are free! You can do what your heart desires!"
Rabbi Shachter did not interrupt the man and he let him finish. He moved his fists towards his heart and said, "Chotosi Uvisi Pushati Lefonecha: Please, may I have your forgiveness?" The man raced up to the Rabbi and embraced him for a while. The rest of us just stood there in silence, and our tears did the talking. After that scene we all decided to have some Matzo anyway. We made the blessing of ACHILAT MATZOT in unison. I am sure that this blessing was heard in heaven, and all the Angels answered Amen.
The assembled crowd dispersed and all the children were gathered and were taken to other quarters outside the camp walls, into the old SS officer barracks, where we spent our stay until we departed for Czechoslovakia on our way to our cities and villages.
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