One Holocaust Survivor’s Story (part III)

Fred’s Story (Part III) (Part II) (Part I)

By Steven Lieberman

Then, things took a turn for the worse.

“It was the summer of ’42, I was called into the office (at Padebon) to receive a phone call from my dad,” Wolf said. “My dad said that he and my step-mom were being evacuated to the East and wanted me to go with them. I said, ‘no, I don’t want to go.’ My dad began to cry, but I was scared to go. I heard that other kids that had been evacuated with their parents were never heard from again.”

“My dad and step-mom were killed at the Treblinka extermination camp in Poland after they were evacuated from Cologne. I never saw them again.”

Franz Stangl was the commandant at Treblinka who was assigned by Heinrich Himmler, the commander of the German Schutzstaffel (SS) and Gestapo and one of the most powerful men in Nazi Germany by being second in power to Hitler in the Nazi hierarchy. 99% of those who arrived at his camp were dead within two hours. After Liberation, he escaped to Brazil, as did many other Nazi war criminals through the “Ratline,” which were systems of escape routes for Nazis and other fascists fleeing Europe at the end of World War II. These escape routes mainly led toward safe havens in South America, particularly Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil and Chile.

Stangl was eventually tracked down by Nazi hunter and Holocaust survivor Simon Wiesenthal and arrested in Brazil. After extradition to West Germany he was tried and sentenced to life imprisonment on October 22, 1970 for the deaths of about 900,000 people. He admitted to these killings but argued: “My conscience is clear. I was simply doing my duty …” He died of heart failure in a Düsseldorf prison on June 28, 1971.

Himmler, founder and officer-in-charge of the Nazi concentration camps and the Einsatzgruppen death squads, held final command responsibility for annihilating tens of millions who were deemed unworthy to live. Before his death, he was suspected of plotting against Hitler; in addition to offering to surrender all of Germany to the Allies only if he was spared from prosecution as a Nazi leader.

He was arrested on May 22, 1945 by Sergeant Arthur Britton of the British army after Germany had lost WWII, and in captivity, was soon recognized. Himmler was scheduled to stand trial with other Nazi leaders as a major war criminal at Nuremberg, but committed suicide in Lüneburg by swallowing a potassium cyanide capsule before interrogation could begin. These cyanide tablets were fitted into caps in SS officers’ teeth before the Holocaust began so that they would always have the choice of suicide if anything went wrong.

“In March of 1943, it was my turn to be evacuated,” Wolf said. “The head man at Padebon was a SS in black uniform. He always said, ‘my Juden (Jews) will stay here.’ But he could never over-rule Hitler or Himmler who wanted all the Jews.”

“We were told that we could put on two shirts, two socks, etc., and also take a rucksack for the rest of our things. Then, we were taken by train, not boxcar, to Bielefeld, the headquarters of the Gestapo (the secret state police under the Nazi regime in Germany noted for its brutality.) There, we slept on cots in a shack.”

(Mintzer and Wolf went to Bielefeld three years ago and saw a stone monument there, erected as a memorial for the Jews that never came back. Wolf’s name, birthday, and birthplace were listed on it, which made for quite a surprise.)

“The next morning, boxcars came. We had to take everything. That was the trip to Auschwitz, but we didn’t know where we were going until we got there. There was one pail that we defecated in. The boxcar was unlocked but everybody was afraid to run. Nobody knew what was going on at Auschwitz.” (SS guards there were required to keep it a secret from their own families.)

“When we arrived at Auschwitz, it was night. The Nazis always transported us at night to the camps. There were bright floodlights and loudspeakers everywhere. Over the loudspeakers, we heard, ‘leave your stuff in the boxcar; we’ll ship it to you later! Everybody over 45, women and children to the right! Everybody under 18, to the left, and if you’re between 18 and 45, stand in the middle!’ I saw people with prison camp stripes on their clothing and a Kapo with a yellow band on his sleeve. The Kapos could have killed you if they wanted to.” (Kapo is a term used for certain prisoners who worked inside the camps in various lower administrative positions. They received more privileges than normal prisoners, towards whom they were often brutal, and were often convicts who were offered this work in exchange for a reduced sentence or parole.)

“I stood in the front row. A high-ranking officer walked by and looked everybody over. He wore nice high leather boots and hit a horse whip on his boots. He asked me how old I was, and I said, ’18!’ ‘Can you work?’ ‘Jawohl, Kommandant, ja kann ich arbeiten!’ (Yes, I can work!) I clicked my heels together and stood at attention to hide that I was a Jew. ‘You can stay,’ he said. That was Dr. Mengele, I was to find out later.” How ironic that one of the Nazis most notorious for brutally killing many Jews, let Wolf live. They were in need of workers in the camps to do the slave labor. This would be the beginning of the many miracles that helped him survive in the camps, and all the “guardian angels” that would help him on his way.

Dr. Josef Mengele gained notoriety chiefly for being one of the SS physicians who supervised the selection of arriving transports of prisoners at Auschwitz, determining who was to be killed and who was to become a slave laborer, and for performing human experiments on camp inmates, amongst whom Mengele was known as the “Angel of Death.” After the War, he also fled to Argentina, evaded capture for 34 years, and then died in Brazil in 1979 when he suffered a stroke while swimming in the sea. He was buried in Embu under the name “Wolfgang Gerhard,” whose ID-card he had used since 1976.

Each prisoner was then given one metal bowl, which, if lost, would prevent them from getting any more “food.” There are photos in the Holocaust archives of prisoners having to use their metal bowls as pillows. The bowl was used for both daily meals; tea in the morning, and watery soup for dinner. You were lucky if you got a small piece of bread. Wolf’s head was shaved, and then every two weeks. Prisoners also were required to wear a symbol on their shirt as a form of classification. Jews wore a red and yellow Mogen David star, homosexuals wore a pink triangle, mentally handicapped a black triangle, convicts a green triangle, and Communists wore a red triangle.

“After the selection, we were loaded on trucks. We had to hold on to each other so as not to fall out because the sides of the truck only came up to our knees,” Wolf said. “I remember it was a clear, night sky. As I gazed at the stars, I said a prayer. ‘G-d, why me, what did I do wrong, why did they bring me here? I’m only 18. I’m a Jew.’”

They finally arrived at Camp Buna; 10,000, or more, prisoners, including British and Russian POW’s and Spanish Republican soldiers and activists. The surrounding work camps in and around Auschwitz were closely connected to German industry and were associated with arms factories, foundries and mines. The largest work camp was Auschwitz III Monowitz, named after the Polish village of Monowice. Starting operations in May 1942, it was associated with the synthetic rubber and liquid fuel plant Buna-Werke owned by I. G. Farben.

“I met a Jew by the name of Freddie Diamond. Since he wasn’t a German citizen, he was thrown in the camps. First, Buchenwald, then Dachau, ending up at Buna. We were going into the shower after we put our shoes to the side, and he said, ‘what are you stupid people doing?! You come here and you never get out! Couldn’t you find a way to escape?!’” (He died a year ago as a resident of the San Fernando Valley.)

“My (first) job (assignment) was to sharpen drills and drill holes, which I learned how to do in Cologne on the kibbutz. We made electrical wires wrapped in a conduit which were then put in a steel pipe. Civilians also worked there.” (Because it was slave labor, and no wages were paid, restitution is now being paid to the Holocaust survivors since the agreement was enacted with the German government.)

“We were marched past a band playing music on a bandstand on the way into the (Farben) plant. There were guards that sometimes took a prisoners’ cap off his head and threw it in the woods, and then told the prisoner to run after it. The guard would then shoot and kill the prisoner trying to “escape.” This happened many times,” Wolf said. “Out of coal, we made methyl alcohol, which was used for tanks and trucks. It was poisonous and smelled like liquor. Some prisoners and civilians were so desperate for food; they tricked other prisoners into giving them a piece of bread or sausage, and in turn, gave them a little bottle of “schnapps,” which was actually the methyl alcohol. The poisoned prisoner would go back to the barracks screaming all night long, go blind, and die the next day. He’d be thrown out and taken away. Americans had stock in Farben, believe it or not.”

“The madriach, Paul Stein, was the first prisoner to commit suicide (from my transport). He knew the guards would shoot him from the tower if he got too near the barbed wire electrical fence. He was sick and tired of the inhumane treatment…no food, being kicked around (like dogs). I also remember a boy prisoner who traded all his food rations for cigarettes. He became skin and bones and got too weak to work, so he ended up ‘up the chimney.’”

“Another fellow, Siegfried, was asked to pull down his pants to see if he was a circumcised Jew. (Non-Jewish Germans were not.) His wife, Ruth, went into the Catholic Church and said, ‘I’m Catholic,’ because there was no way of telling if a woman was Jewish. They both survived, met in Paris after the War, went to Israel, and then to the United States. They worked for a big frame company called Aaron Brothers.”

The harsh conditions were beginning to destroy Wolf’s will to go on living. It was stressful, not knowing if and when the SS might decide to shoot him, and the fact that they considered him garbage. One Sunday, feeling as if he was at the end of his rope, he sat down on the sidewalk and started to cry. A Polish-Jewish Kapo, Harry Naftani, asked him why he was crying. “I’m not going to make it,” Wolf said. “There’s not enough food for me and I have a terrible case of diarrhea, so I’m not eating.”

“Harry took me in (under his wing). He made ashes out of burnt wood and gave it to me to eat, which cured me. (Similar to charcoal capsules that are used as a remedy today.) After the War, I tried to locate Harry by contacting the Red Cross, but couldn’t find him.”

(to be continued tomorrow)

July 18, 2007 | Comments Off on One Holocaust Survivor’s Story (part III)

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