WALK IN MY SHOES
Collected Memories of the Holocaust
as told by Shiku Smilovic in his
autobiographical memoir "Buchenwald
Most of the concentration camps in Eastern Europe were being evacuated away from the advancing Russian Armies and a great number of their inmates were brought to Buchenwald. All the Jews left in Czentstechov were brought to Buchenwald. The camp was over-filled with prisoners by the thousands. Since the factories were out of operation, we stayed in the barracks and I had the opportunity to go and see father again.
Father was very pessimistic about the whole situation. He told me that all the people from his barrack were being transferred from Buchenwald in order to make room for other incoming prisoners. I felt a cold shiver going through my bones. The Americans were already occupying part of western Germany; in only a few weeks the war would be over, and we would be free. Father took me around and hugged me for a while. I could feel his tears running down my neck and he said, "If you are spared I want you to tell the world about our destruction. And don't let the world ever forget the murder of the Jews!"
kiss on my forehead, he said goodbye, and walked away waving to me. I was
left sitting on the ground in front of my barrack, dazed. I wanted to cry
out and scream. I just sat and watched while dad was walking away towards
his barrack and kept waving all along. The next day when I returned from
work, I hurried to see father in his barrack, but he was gone. They were
all removed the night before and taken away to a unknown destination.
I returned to my barrack with the gift I had made up the night before: a package with a pair of warm socks and a piece of bread and a chocolate bar we received from the Red Cross the week before. I had saved it for a special occasion and I brought it all back. I sat down on my bunk and was shocked from the bad news. I knew in my heart that father was gone forever, and I couldn't do a thing. I cried like I never cried before; my tears were forming like rivers all over me, somehow I blamed myself, thinking that maybe I could have helped father somehow, but everything happened so fast and he was gone forever.
With all the new arrivals, the camp was overloaded and the food supply was cut in half. People from the new transports were half-frozen and most of them were dead when they arrived. The crematorium that had not been in use most of the time while I was in Buchenwald those last four months, but it began operating 24 hours a day; the smell reminds me of Auschwitz when we first arrived there and that was something I wanted to forget.
Our barrack was close to the main gates and we watched in horror while the bodies were being carried through the main gates to the crematorium for cremation.
The population in Buchenwald swelled from 15,000 to over 50,000. The food supply was poor; some days there was no food.
Trainloads of people arrived daily from the evacuated camps. It was mid-February and the temperature was 25 below freezing; most of the people were frozen stiff; the only ones that hid under the frozen bodies managed to survive. The crematorium could not keep up with the multitude of dead bodies: the bodies were now just in piles, like lumber, on the road to the crematorium. It was scary to look at this ugly site, bodies in the thousands, piled about ten feet high and there was no end to it; more and more transports arrived daily with the same results: mostly frozen and dead.
We lay on our bunks, hungry, and with no
supper for the second day. Luckily we had something saved from the good
days, and we shared the little food that we had managed to gather with
each other. Back in our minds we thought about how this was going to end.
There were rumours in camp that we would be evacuated as soon as the front
lines came closer.
The rumour became reality and the evacuation of the camp began. Thousands of people were lined up in front of the main gates; they each received some bread and they were marched out of the camp on the famous death marches that were recorded in many of the post-war Buchenwald reports.
During these line-ups for the evacuation, some people changed their minds about leaving and just stepped out from the group and ran toward the main camp. We in block 8 witnessed this daily since we were situated next to the gathering place. The SS pursued the runaways and shot at them like animals as they ran, but nothing stopped the runaways; they just kept running. The evacuation of the camp, which did not separate the Jews from the other prisoners, continued daily.
But on March 21, 1945, they announced specifically in German: "S”mtliche Juden Antreten." (All Jews must report to the main gates.) Since most of the Jews knew by now that separation of prisoners meant certain death, they hid their identity by switching their coloured triangle from the yellow, indicating Jewish, to the red triangle, indicating political prisoner. They were easy to obtain from the block leaders. The flow of Jewish prisoners reporting to the main gates went down to a trickle. Block 21 was first at the gates, they were the Jewish tradesman mostly from Holland, Belgium and France, since 1943, a few hundred young men in their twenties and thirties that were mainly in the building trade building new facilities in the factory and who also worked in the camp. They were treated much better than the rest of us.
A cousin from Ungwar, about 40 km from Munkacz, was among the young men from Holland. He was studying in Amsterdam University when the war broke out and decided to stay in Holland, he was later taken to Auschwitz and Buchenwald. He was in touch with father while he was still among the living in Buchenwald. My cousin was much older than me. I had no real connection with him, other than that he sometimes brought me some bread as a treat. He also told me the day after father had been was removed from his barrack, "Tell your father to get out from that block fast, since that block is on the list of liquidation," but he was too late with his advice: father's block was already gone.
After the liberation we were told that block 59 was shot in the woods of Buchenwald the same day they were removed from their barrack.
Most of the Dutch boys were saved, since most of them were in good physical shape, and they also had food to take with them on the march. I found that out from my cousin's sisters when I lived in Liberec in late 1945 and most of 1946. Aranka Herskovics, she was beautiful, my brother Leo, who was still in his Czech officer’s uniform, had an eye on her, but he later married an even more beautiful girl, Rose from Kivjazsd. The next sister was Loli, about twenty years old, and the youngest we called Tatus, since she loved to eat chocolates and talk at the same time, her real name was Agnes. They told me that their brother survived with most of his friends from Holland and lived again in Amsterdam teaching in the University of Amsterdam.
The next blocks to report to the gates for the march were Jews from block 61 and 62. The order from the SS Lager commandant was very poorly observed. He then ordered the SS to check every barrack in camp for Jews in hiding. The SS, with pistols drawn, were running towards the camp. Since our Block 8 was next to the gathering area, we witnessed these happenings with great anxiety.
In the meantime our block leader made sure that all the kids had their proper red labels sewn on their lapels. More SS reinforcements were running toward the camp, we could hear some shootings from all over the camp and things looked very scary. Since Block 8 was a children’s block, our block had SS soldiers assigned to check the daily roll calls, they were always the same soldiers. Franta, the block leader, was always friendly with the two SS that used to come to our block for roll call. This time when they came looking for Jews, they lined us up for inspection. Since we all had our triangles changed, everything was going smoothly as planned, except one 13 year-old young boy did not have his label on. The SS grabbed him and yelled at him "You are Jewish;" the kid did not reply; he shook him again and said, "What are you?" By this time, the commotion on the camp was so serious, shootings were heard in sequence without stopping. They said something to Franta and ran out to the gates, heading toward the shootings in pursuit of the runaway crowd. We were returned to our barrack and Franta said, "This was very close". The Jews that were gathered on the Appel Platz, about 10,000 of them, were given a slice of bread and led out the gates for the "death march".
The statistics in post-war documents state that only 10% of people survived the death march after walking for weeks without food or water and with very little sleep, if any. People not able to walk were shot on the spot and left lying wherever it happened. They walked through towns and villages, German towns and German villages. The German population saw what was happening in front of their eyes. The war was practically over and these people just acted as if nothing of great importance was happening. They even buried the dead left behind, in order not to be blamed by the American forces for these atrocities.
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