One Holocaust Survivor’s Story

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

By Steven Lieberman

“(For my second job assignment), we were divided up, given a number, and assigned to a Kommando. The worst was the Cement Kommando, number 4. When we got to the (Farben) factory, we had to unload and carry on our shoulders 110 lb bags of cement out of the boxcars for 12 hours a day. There were two wooden planks set up, with two guys at the top and two at the bottom. . The Kapo would stand by the side and tell us to work harder and faster, sometimes hitting us. I said, ‘I’m not going to live another day…I can’t.’ So I had an idea to get me out of this detail.”

“There were also electric welders at the factory. I knew that if I stared into the flame for a minute or two without a shield on, my eyes would burn and I’d have to be sent to the aid station. My idea worked, but it felt as if sand was being thrown into my eyes. Ernie was the head man at the aid station. I was also with him at Padebon. He told me to ‘get out in the morning, fast, because the SS will come and see that you can’t work anymore and take you to the gas chamber.’ So, I did. The burning healed and Ernie gave me a different set of clothes from the aid station.”

“Luckily, I was assigned to a different detail. The SS asked us if we knew how to fix leaky roofs, and Harry told me to say that I do, so we could stay together. We were shipped to another camp in Auschwitz, where there were six barracks with leaky roofs. Then we went into the factory and I worked a lathe and helped assemble the “Screaming Meanie,” the 88 mm anti-aircraft gun for the Americans. It was so perfect that, within a mile, it could hit a tank and explode it. I made a mistake one time and cut my hand on the lathe. If the SS were around at that time, they would have shot and killed me on the spot. I was lucky.”

Britain and the United States began moving in on the concentration camps from the west, and the Soviet Union was advancing from the east. The Soviets took a stand and shut down the factory, loading up and hauling everything away. The Nazis decided to abandon the camps, moving or destroying evidence of the atrocities they had committed there. This would be the beginning of the German retreat and the “death marches” for the Jews and other prisoners. The deadliest and best known of the marches took place at Auschwitz, where Wolf was being held. The Nazis killed thousands of prisoners in gas chambers, by lethal injection and by starvation before the marches, and killed many more during and after.

Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor and winner of the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize, was forced on this same death march, along with his father, Shlomo, which he describes in his 1958 book, “Night.”

“We started on our death march in the winter of ’44-45,” Wolf said. “First we went to Krakow in Poland and slept in the slaughter houses on the ground. The next morning, we were told to lie down in the deep snow like herring, wearing very little clothing, one next to the other to keep warm, while the SS guards watched us. When we woke up in the snow, there were some dead prisoners. A burial Kommando was assigned to bury the dead in the ground.”

Some of the guards were from the Ukraine during Stalin’s reign. They didn’t want the communist way of living, so they were recruited by the Germans. They guarded the prisoners from the camp towers and now were helping the Nazis herd them like cows.

“We walked until we got to the Czech Border. There were open boxcars there and we were pushed and squeezed in by the guards. The train took us to Upper Austria, to another extermination camp called Mauthausen. (One of the largest slave labor camps in all of Europe with an average life expectancy of less than three months for newly-arrived prisoners.) We had to walk way up high to get there. One of the SS stood there and said ‘we need help in the Crematorium…who wants to do that job?’ A little polish Jewish fellow raised his hand and so did I. But then I remembered not to ever volunteer for anything. So they took him. After the Liberation, when I was brought to Italy, someone tapped me on the shoulder and said ‘do you remember that little guy at Mauthausen? The Soviets came and threw him into the fire, alive. They thought he was a German because he was helping at the Crematorium.’”

“From Mauthausen, we were transported by boxcar to a site close to Vienna, to work in an underground cave on the fuselage of a German fighter plane called the Messerschmitt Me 262 (German Swallow ), the world’s first operational jet-powered fighter. (Per German doctrine at the time, several components of the Me 262 were built in slave labor camps.) It flew 500 mph and was used to shoot down the B17 American fighter planes. I assembled the ejecting device for the pilot’s seat.”

“I mistakenly was given a red triangle (communist) instead of a Mogen David star to wear on my shirt. So I took a pen and drew the Mogen David to show that I was actually Jewish. One of the Kapo’s there said I was lying and said, ‘You get 25 on your butt.’ One held me down and made me count while the other beat me with a whip. Came morning to get home to the barracks, the Kapo told the head Kapo at the barracks about me wanting to pose as a political prisoner instead of a Jew. ‘Ok, let’s give him another 25.’ I passed out and next thing I knew, I was in a cold shower. Then they put me in bed. I had to sleep on my stomach for weeks until the pain went away. My butt was so swollen, my pants hardly fit.”

“On the way back to Mauthausen, we were sleeping in tents,” Wolf said. “Many Hungarian Jews were sprayed with bullets from machine guns and killed for ignoring an order and not getting out of the foxholes that they dug to keep warm in. The next day, other prisoners were trying to sell their flesh as good “meat” for eating. There was a Jewish man from Holland with a broken leg. He was screaming, ‘help me, help,’ because he knew the Nazis would kill him if he couldn’t work That man crying out for help still rings in my ears to this day.”

“The next morning, we were given new clothes and shoes before going to work. As I was walking, a nail stuck in the heel of my shoe. The hollow heel fell off and inside was a diamond ring. Harry was with me and he knew one of the SS, a brutal guy, the Unterscharfuhrer, who would kill you for anything. Harry went to him in the SS kitchen and got cured bacon, salami, and bread in exchange for the ring.” (The Unterscharfuhrer is a supervisor in charge of overseeing various Sonderkommandos (prisoners) who performed the act of gassing Jews and other “undesirable” prisoners of the Third Reich.)

“The weather was already springtime and nice as we walked to a different camp. This time there were no SS guards watching us. On the way, I slipped away and went into a grocery store. The attendants let me take free food. Maybe they thought I would hurt them or had lice and was sick with typhoid. When I came out, I was alone. I could have run away but I didn’t because I knew that Liberation was imminent and I might get killed.”

“Finally, we ended up in the woods, at the camp, a few miles away from Salzburg. There were barracks with no beds and we were made to lie on the ground again, next to each other. When you got up to go relieve yourself, you would come back and you wouldn’t have a place to lie down anymore. There were pails of feces that prisoners would dump on your face in anger. I couldn’t take it anymore, so I got on a friends shoulders and was lifted up to one of the barracks’ wooden trusses and that’s where I slept. I was the only one that thought to do this.”

“They wanted us to die there, that was the idea. Not to get rescued by the Americans. We could hear the artillery from the distance which got closer and closer. Many died. It took four of us to carry a dead person and drop them into a ravine. I saw an SS guard shoot a Jew who was pleading for his life after he was caught trying to escape. He had a Luger semi-automatic pistol and pointed it at his head, execution style, at the lip of the ravine and he dropped like a ‘sack of potatoes.’ Then he kicked him into the ravine.”

“One morning, I was sleeping on the truss and awoke to find nobody below me,” Wolf said. “I thought, ‘maybe they forgot me, maybe they shot everybody.’ I jumped down and ran to the front gate which was wide open. The American soldiers said, ‘come out, you’re free to go!’ There were a few Nazis in uniform laying there, dead. I couldn’t believe it! I thought they were going to transfer me to another concentration camp.”

The camps of Mauthausen-Gusen were the last to be liberated during World War II. On May 5, 1945, the camp at Mauthausen was approached by soldiers of the 41st Recon Squad of the US 11th Armored Division, 3rd US Army. The reconnaissance squad was led by S/SGT Albert J. Kosiek whose troops disarmed the Nazi guards. By the time of its liberation, most of the SS-men of Mauthausen had already fled; however, some 30 who were left were lynched by the prisoners. One of the camp’s survivors was Wiesenthal.

“I walked to the village near Salzburg to get the train. The American MP’s (Military Police) were guarding this steel shack next to the train station that contained food supply for the German army. The prisoners pleaded with them to let them have the food, which were sacks of sugar and boxes of oats. They were so desperately hungry; they were catching garden snails and heating them up to eat with grass. Finally, the shack was opened. Everybody rushed in there, ripping open the sacks and gobbling down handfuls of sugar. I was the smart one again. I took what I could in my pockets, walked out, and went to a house in the village. A woman opened the door and I asked her, ‘would you please cook this for me? I have diarrhea and it will help me to stop it.’ And she did. It was the best oatmeal with sugar I have ever tasted. I walked past the shack where the sugar and oats were stored and people were lying dead on top of the sugar. They overdosed on sugar, which was like poison. Their stomachs couldn’t handle it. Many also died from overeating.”

“I ended up walking to the next town, resting every few steps because of exhaustion. There was a hospital there that was also being guarded by American MP’s. Again, the MP’s were not letting people in. So I had another good idea. I walked around to the back and there were nuns at the door. I said, ‘I’m sick, help me, I have diarrhea, please, I’m only 18.’ At first they said no, but then, after begging and pleading for some time, they said ok and let me in. A man told me to take everything off and gave me a towel to cover my body. They took me downstairs and put me in a bathtub filled with Lysol to disinfect me and laid me on a cot.”

“The hospital room I was assigned to had a feather bed with nice white linens. That was a real treat. I was also fed. I woke up the next morning to see lice crawling on my pillow. My hair was still full of lice. Two days later, a doctor said to me, ‘listen to me buddy, you’re young, you just have diarrhea, that’s all. The others have typhoid. You get away from here right now and go to a DP (Displaced Persons) camp.’ And that’s what I did. I couldn’t believe that I was being locked up again in a camp, so I would repeatedly run away. Every time the Americans would drive by in a jeep or car, they knew who I was and picked me up. Then I would jump out of the vehicle on a slow turn.”

(to be continued tomorrow)

July 19, 2007 | Comments Off on One Holocaust Survivor’s Story

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