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Birkenau-Auschwitz and Dachau Holocaust Survivor

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Kein Platz

Kinder (1) [Children (1)]

Kinder (2) [Children (2)]

Konzentrationslager [Concentrations Camp (1)]

Konzentrationslager [Concentrations Camp (2)]


Kristallnacht (The Night of Broken Glass) 











In the Nazi extermination camp, the hierarchy within each camp was strictly established. The competence of each function clearly and exactly defined by its very name: head of the barrack, head of the camp, head of the Revier, head of the Bunker, head of the gallows, head of the gas chamber, head of the crematorium...

 There was only one vague function: Kapo.

The Häftling who was wearing on the left arm a black band on which it was written --KAPO-- in Gothic letters of immaculate whiteness, was a chief. It was not precisely known over whom, but it was known that he could strike, beat, kill any Häftling who did not belong to the inner hierarchy of the camp, Kapo could be chief over a labor detachment, chief over a maintenance team in the camp; he could accompany the marching columns or to maintain order in the Appellplatz. But apart from all these, he could strike, beat and kill any of the Häftlings who did not hold any function.

Kapos were recruited from among sadists, from among the unscrupulous ones, who forgot they belonged to the human species, from among those who, faced with the alternative die or kill, preferred to kill. In order to prove their servility and to maintain their position as chiefs, they tried to surpass the SS-men in ferocity.

The Kapos kit, beat, killed out of sadism or envy, out of the desire to assert themselves as chiefs or out fear of losing their function, out of hate of man or out of the mere pleasure to trample underfoot and torment the fellow men.

I have seen at Birkenau-Auschwitz, Kaufering No. 4, Kaufering No. 9 and Landsberg, Kapos of all nationalities, from all social strata and the abyss of human degradation made me feel much more pain than their blows.

At Mauthausen, the camp which my father was killed, the first Kapo was the detainee enrolled at number 31: August Adam.

Vicenzo and Luigi Pappalettera wrote in their book The Brutes Have the Floor that, every time a new transport of detainees arrived at Mauthausen, Kapo August Adam picked out the professors, lawyers, priests and magistrates and cynically asked them: "Are you a lawyer? A professor? Good! Do you see this green triangle? This means I am a killer. I have five convictions on my record: one for manslaughter and four for robbery. Well, here I am in command. The world has turned upside down, did you get that? Do you need a Dolmetscher, an interpreter? Here it is!" And he was pointing to his bat, after which he striked. When he was satisfied, he formed a Scheisskompanie with those selected and sent them to clean the latrines.

In each concentration camp there was a handful of Häftlings who wore a black arm band on which it was written in Gothic letters of immaculate white: KAPO. They were those who, entering the gates of the camp, forgot that they were human beings and wanted to survive abusing the fellow men, torturing then... killing them...




Kein Platz


At Birkenau-Auschwitz es war kein Platz, there was no place for the dead; that is why the dead was burnt in the crematoria. Nor was there place for the living, and that is why almost 80 per cent of the new-comers were led from the platform straight into the gas chambers.

There was no place to put the things brought along from home; they were taken and sent to the Reich. There was no place to keep your memories.

Then I turned my soul into a grave and I buried there everything I had lost. But not the memories, as there had been place for all my dead.

I am alone. In my soul there is kein Platz mehr, no place any more, there is no place for anyone and for anything.

Not even for myself.





Kinder (1)


First I heard my father groaning when hit from behind the moment we went through the gates of camp E at Birkenau, then I felt its burn on my own back, and only afterwards I was told that its name was Peitsche, riding whip.

First I saw my brother and my friends trampled underfoot, then I was knockted down myself by just one blow, and afterwards I knew what Blockälteste, barrack chief, meant and what rights he had over us.

First I looked for days and nights on end at the gloomy building in front of us, whose chimney was ceaselessly throwing violet-black wreaths into the air and later I was told that he who entered that building would only come out under the form of smoke and ashes, and I learned its name: Krematorium, crematorium.

First I began to hear, besides they common shouting, crying and cursing, some distinct hand-rending howling, of uncommon intensity, then I was told that it was the female detainees that were howling, after having been made sterilizing injection, they were being taken their oversee out, or the male detainees who were being irradiated in order to be emasculated, or the pairs of twins brutally forced to have sexual intercourse, and only afterwards I learned that those were Experimente an lebendige Menschen, experiments on living people.

All the words and phrases of this camp dictionary first hurt me, drained my soul, and only afterwards I learned them. Even now, after many, many years, when I hear the word Peitsche, I do not instantly see a rubber I hear my Father groan and feel a horrible burning sensation all over my body. Even now, after many, many years, when I utter the word Blockälteste, I first see my brother tossing about in the dust kicked by heavy boots, then I feel the kicks of the same boots on my own stomach, and only later the barrack chiefs of Birkenau, Landsberg, Kaufering and all the other camps I knew pass in front of my eyes. At the sound of the word Krematorium I first feel the small of burnt flesh in my nostrils, the smarting of the dark violet smoke circles in my eyes, and only after wards I do see that gloomy building. If I utter the word Experimente the heart-rending howling of the Häftlings used as guinea pigs immediately break into my ears. But not ever later the image of a fully equipped laboratory doesn't come to my because I keep hearing those howling.

Yes, to me all the words and phrases of this cam dictionary seemed from the very beginning, as they do now, after so many years, painfully real. One word alone out of those I learned then, there was abstract, as it meant something one could neither see, nor hear. The word Kinder, children.

 Then, and there, Kinder was an abstract noun as there were no children in the camps at Birkenau. Then I arrived at Birkenau in 1944 all children under 14 were being taken from the death platform, located at some tens of metros from camps A, B, C, D, E. F..., straight into the gas chambers. Not a single child, under that age, had been allowed to live. We uttered the word Kinder, but there were no children there, children who could laugh or cry, children who lived. Neither in camp A, nor in camp B, nor in camp C..., nor in any other camp at Birkenau.

The last time I saw children there was on June 9, 1944, before I left the death platform and I entered camp E. I saw them in the endless column dragging along towards the gas chambers. Nursed by their mothers or sleeping in their arms, crying for thirst or because their toys had been lost in that terrible throng, a skiing their mothers why they had tears in their eyes or whispering prayers, the Kinder, the children, were making for death.

I followed them with my eyes until the image grew dim. First I lost sight of little brother Valentin, who walked towards the crematorium, one hand holding the slate close to his chest, while the other holding mother's skirt... Then I could not see my twin brother and sister, Cornel and Cornelia, any more... After another ten minutes the figures of all children grew dim, melted in that endless column of mothers, old and sick people, whose head had penetrated inside the crematorium.

Hundreds of thousands of children had get down from the vans on the death platform at Birkenau. Within less than one hour after their arrival, they were all, without exception, in the endless column dragging along towards the gas chambers. And so, although at Birkenau we kept uttering the word Kinder, children, there were no children there, children who could laugh or cry, children who lived. Neither in camp A, nor in champ B, nor in camp C..., nor in any other amputee Birkenau.

There were no children because the Kinder, the children, are in the future of a people, and in the Nazi outlook the Jewish people had to be denied a future. Reichführer SS Heinrich Himmler had clearly and outright stated it in front or the Gauleiters on October 6, 1943: "I do not think it would be wise to exterminate Jewish adults, men and women..., and let their children live, tot ache revenge on our children and grand-children. We must exterminate Jewish children, too, and have this people removed from the face of the earth."

"This action is now under way."

Indeed, in the autumn of 1943 that action was under way. In the summer of 1944 when I arrived at Birkenau, the action had been almost completed. The only Kinder at Birkenau, Jewish children under 14, were in that endless column witch, shouting and imploring, crying and cursing, was dragging along, from the death platform towards the crematorium day and night.





Kinder (2)


Starting 1944, at Birkenau the word Kinder, children, fell into disuse, as it had no meaning any more. The survivors had been exterminated. The newcomers aged under 14 were being taken straight into the gas chambers. The deportees temporarily permitted to live because all Häftlings.

The butchers of the Nazi camps made no distinction between a 15 years old child, an adult or an abed person. All Häftlings were equal. The cement sacks the same weight whether thy were thrown on the back or a child or on that adult. The blocks were as big and had to be carried on the same winding road, from dawn till evening, irrespective or the age of the detainees in the Kommando. All Häftlings &emdash; children and adult a like &emdash; were beaten with the same riding whips or with braided wire ropes of a similar thickness. Hunger, thirst, cold and diseases were exhausting the Häftlings bodies irrespective of their age. The SS would kick with their boots, hit with the riding whip or the rifle butt any Häftling with the same cruelty. The age of the Häftling was of no interest to them, as it was of no interest to the Kapo. Nor did the wolf dogs make any distinction when they savagely tore off the flesh of the Häftlings.

All Nazi camps followed the same iron law: he Häftlings, whiter children or adults, were Todeskandidaten, candidates for death. No one among them was supposed to leave the camp alive, no matter his or her age upon internment.

However, although all Häftlings wore the same torn striped clothes, although they looked all older and had haggard faces, although they did the same exhausting work and had gone through the same tortures, there were differences between children and adults.

The Kinder, the children, would find it harder to endure when applied 25, 50 or 75 blows. Blood would gush from their wounds quicker and their shouts were piercing. When mass executions by shooting in the backhand were ordered, there were times when, to spare the bullets, some child would be thrown alive in the flames of the Schleiterhaufen, of the pyre. When exterminated in the gas chambers, the Häftlings did not die all at the same time; as the air was being poisoned from the bottom upwards, the first to get asphyxiated were always the Kinder, the children, who each time formed the basis of that hallucinating pyramid of corpses clung to each other. While tossing about in death convulsions, the adults, who were tales and stronger, would involuntary try to climb up the pyramid in search of a breath of good air, without realizing that they were trampling corpses of children under their feat.





Konzentrationslager (1)


During the dark years of fascism there were many words that made millions of people in Germany and in the occupied countries tremble with fear when hearing them. A terrible fright gripped their souls when they heard somebody uttering Gestapo or SS. The word Konzentrationslager, concentration camp, generated a paralyzing, animal dread. Anyone who entered the gates of such a camp was a future corpse...

The SS men caressing their own child -- den Konzentrationslager, concentration camp -- called it K.Z. Katet.

The first Konzentrationslager, the first Katet was established within 60 days after Hitler's coming to power, on the 45th day of his chancellor ship. On March 21, 1933, the daily Münchener Neueste Nachrichten published a communiqué signed by Heinrich Himmler: "On Wednesday, March 22, the first concentration camp, accommodating 5.000 people will be inaugurated in the neighborhood of Dachau..." The same years, K.Z. Sachsenhausen was also established. By the end of the year 27.000 detainees were in concentration camps.

After 11 years, in the summer of 1944, when the entire Germany was crisscrossed by the barbed-wire of the Katets, the number of detainees had increased to several million.

Possessed by a mania for hierarchy and classification, the SS-men divided even the concentration camp into three categories. The camps in the first category were for the "less dangerous" detainees, those in the second category -- for people having a bad dossier (having, however, a chance to rehabilitate themselves); the living and working conditions there were much harsher. The camps in the third category were for those whose "return was undesirable" and consequently they were, in fact, exactly what they were called Knochenmühlen, bone-grinders.

Subsequently, the differences disappeared and all KZ became corps factories.

The SS men's mania for hierarchy and classification was also evident during the first years in connection with the internments in the concentration camps.

The first category to fill the KZs were the political prisoners -- communists, social-democrats, all those considered or suspected of being hostile to the Nazi regime, all the antifascists. Later an, an important part of the political prisoners was represented by those deported -- on the basis of the Nacht und Nebel decree, night and darkness -- accused or suspected of being enemies of the Reich.

The next category was that of the criminals. They were divided into two sub-groups: a) those who had been in jail for their crimes. Nevertheless, they had been again arrested as unreliable persons and interned in concentration camps; b) those who, while serving sentences of 5, 10, 20 years or even life sentences were taken out of jail and sent to KZs. The most merciless Blockälteste barracks' chiefs and Kapo were recruited from among them.

Close to the criminals was the so-called asocial. The Gestapo people, according to their will and fancy, placed in this category anyone whom they so wanted. That is why alongside genuine tramps, beggars, poachers, thieves, gamblers and prostitutes, alongside racketeers and pickpockets or swindlers, alongside notorious drunkards, pimps and profiteers, people who were denounced or suspected of treating badly their Nazi servant, or of not being politely enough with the Nazi leader of the block of flats or the street, or because their chief at the place of work, nursing some grudge, denounced them that "they evade work" found themselves sent to the camp.

The most numerous category, several millions in all, consisted of those interned on grounds of race: the Jews and the gypsies. Defining this category was the least headache for the Gestapo. Especially when it came to the Jews. He who was a Jew was well known and the Jews had to be arrested without any distinction -- all of them, to the last, no matter where they were.

Falling into separate categories were: the race profanes, Jews or non-Jews, who had infringed on the Nürnberg purity laws, the Bibelfroschers (the Bible contenders), the homosexuals, the emigrants who had fled Germany to escape Nazism and were caught in the occupied countries, the foreigners, the war prisoners, etc.

It is difficult, almost impossible, to enumerate all the categories as there always were decrees, circulars, orders establishing new categories. On July 25, 1944, in the district of Radom (Poland) for instance, an order was issued which stipulated: "the Reichsführer SS ordered that in all cases of outrages or attempts on German lives… not only the criminals caught in the very act shall be shout but, besides them, all their male relatives shall be executed, while their female relatives, the girls above 16 years of age included shall be interned in a concentration camp". The entire range of pretexts that served for establishing new categories of detainees in the KZs could not be reconstituted yet.

Thus, the world of the concentration camps was extremely variegated: revolutionary militants and common criminals, workers and world-renowned scientist, celebrated artists and state dignitaries, tramps as well as high prelates, magistrates and generals.

In the beginning, the detainees had a differentiated treatment, in accordance with the category in which they belonged. But very soon that was forgotten. All became Häftlings. All became live corpses.

In the attempt -- unfortunately, often successful -- to mislead public opinion, Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler stated in official speeches: "First of all, rest assured that no one is interned in camps without reason: those who are in the camps belong in the scum, they are criminals, abnormal being. There is no more striking proof of the reality of the laws of heredity and race than a concentration camps. We find their hydrocephalic people, as well as people who squint, misshapen individuals, half-Jews, a considerable number of people who are inferior in point of race."

In order to lend credibility to this lie, special arrangements were made in some camps before allowing the visit of the Red Cross commissions or of special envoys of various governments allied to Hitler. Edouard Calic, deported to Oranienburg, witnessed a number of such visits by "dignitaries of the Axis."

On the arrival of the guests, the commander gave orders that a sample set of the "pensioners" be assembled at the camp's entrance, consisting of persons worthy of a circus: dwarfs, giants, mentally defective people and specimens belonging in all categories of detainees, each one distinguished by the different color of the "triangle". Then, in our presence, the Nazi chiefs began their peroration before the visitors:

"Behold, Sirs, these creatures; this range of colors shows you that here is concentrated a series of beings, dangerous not only to the Reich, but to the entire world. I ask you, what use are these communists, these alarming stateless people, these Jews, these bandits, these homosexuals, these idiots?"

Set like wolfhounds by the very head of the SS, Reichsfährer Heinrich Himmler, the SS-men showed diabolic zeal in making each camp function as a death factory.

Over 100,000 SS men enrolled in the famous Totenkopf1 regiments, supervised for years the watch towers of the thousands of KZs and guarded their barbed-wires, cordoned off the detainees detachments taken out for slave labor, always kept, day and night, a hand on the sub-machine gun ready to shoot, and in the other hand a horsewhip ready to strike; they had only one mission, governed by a simple aim; none of the millions of Häftlings who entered the gates of a Konzentrationslager, a concentration camp, should get out but durch den Kamin, trough the chimney.







Konzentrationslager (2)


The KZs had multiple meanings, countless facets.

The main and most general significance was death. Their most significant facet was that of death factories. Passing through the gates of any KZ meant stepping into the arms of death. Millions of innocent people, especially Jews, went from the platform directly to the gas chamber. Even if one was not immediately exterminated, having entered a KZ one was in the realm of death. One was, as a great writer wrote -- on the basic of his own experience -- on another planet. There, the conditions of life and work were most unusual, unearthly. That is why one who has never been a Häftling cannot perceive in his human mind the inhumanity of a Konzentrationslager, of a Nazi concentration camp.

A lot has been said and written about beatings and tortures, about the criminal promiscuity and the lack of the most elementary conditions of sanitation, about the extreme physical misery caused by chronicle hunger, thirst, could, lack of sleep. About the exhausting, overtiring work. About the abuse and humiliation of the detainees, the trading of any shred of dignity. But all the suffering of various degrees of intensity are common to all the camps and prisons of totalitarian, dictatorial regimes. In the KZ each human suffering was exacerbated beyond any imaginable limit. The Häftling was not beaten only when he was punished with 25... 50 or 75 blows, he was beaten permanently: in the morning by Blockälteste, the barracks chief, in order to jump out quicker from the bunk, to hurry up dressing, to come out on the double for the Appell; then Lagerälteste (the Häftlings -- who was chief of the camp) and his aides beat him ruthlessly to enter in the front and keep the alignment.

On the way to the work place one was beaten either with the horsewhip and the rifle butt by the SS-men or with the cudgel by the Kapo. Work and beating went hand in hand, were like twin sisters. A "self-respecting" Kapo could not pass by without imparting stimulating blows and if in answer one had no strength to intensify the rhythm one was lost: beaten until one fell down, then trumped under feet until blood gushed out; it was with great difficulty that one could rise to resume working in order to survive another day. The tortures were not connected -- as in the usual prison -- only to the interrogation at the political section Gestapo of the camp, but to the whims, often to the mere desire for diversion of a group of bored SS-men, or to the caprices of a Kapo. The permanent hunger, the animal hunger lasting for months and years in the KZs cannot be described; for the survivors themselves it is a mystery how they could endure it.

But the essential difference between a KZ and any other place of torture known in history on our planet consists in the lack of any rights for the Häftling, in his being disregarded as a human being. The Häftling was not even recognized the elementary right to live. Consequently, one had neither who to complain to, nor the right to complain to anyone that one had no food, that one was unjustly beaten, that at the "roll call", "at the place of work" or " last evening in the barracks" one's father, brother or one's best friend was killed by a blow on the temple, his over the head with an iron bar, trampled under feet or pushed into a swamp by an SS-man, by the Kapo or by the Blockälteste. Not only the SS-men, but also every Häftling who had a place in the camp's hierarchy had the right of life and death over the rest. He could order anything and one had to carry the order out without saying a word. One could be ordered: to uproot the grass with one's teeth, to put one's head in the tub of excrements, to whip one's own brother or comrade, to recover one's cap witch the SS-man had thrown beyond the established perimeter knowing that stepping beyond the line one could be immediately reached by a bullet, to hang oneself by driving oneself a nail in the wall and using the noose that was placed in one's hand.

The Konzentrationslager, the concentration camps also distinguished themselves by the scale of assassinations. There were thousands of KZs in witch killings were done. There were hundreds of KZs in which, in each of them, hundreds of thousands of people were assassinated. In tens of KZs hundreds of thousands of people were liquidated. At Treblinka 1.300.000 were exterminated, at Auschwitz-Birkenau over four million.

In spite of incontestable realities, even on the eve of the total Collapse, in April 1945, Himmler continued to lie trying to further mislead public opinion. He played the indignant learning how the Allies described the realities found in the liberated KZs. In an interview with Count Bernadotte, Himmler voiced his indignation on the ground that "irreproachable camp became the subject of shameful descriptions". Himmler further said that he would order an inquiry in connection with the absolutely ridiculous descriptions, which the Allies had about Buchenwald and Bergen-Belsen.

The truth is that when Brigadier Glyn Hunhes, the deputy director of the medical services of the British army of the Rhine, entered the camp at Bergen-Belsen, a few hours after Lieutenant-Colonel Taylor, what he saw with his own eyes was unbelievable, impossible to put on paper. "No description or photograph", he said, "could truly render the horrors outside the barracks, while the dreadful scenes inside them were even more terrible."

According to E. Russel's book "The Scourge of the Swastika", heaps of corpses were lying all over the camp, outside and inside the barracks, the dead and the living together. By the crematorium there were common graves that had been covered and a trench full of corpses.

The barracks were packed with detainees, each one more drained and more ill than other; in some, which could accommodate a hundred persons only, there were a thousand.

There was no sanitation and the conditions in the barracks were revolting because the majority of the detainees suffered from one form or another of gastric-enteritis and were too week to go out. In any case, the latrines in the barracks had ceased being usable since long. In the woman's compartment there was a deep ditch over witch a crosspiece had been place, but there was no screen or any from of privacy.

Those who were strong enough could go out of the compartment; the others relieved themselves wherever they were lying. The compartments were full of human excrements.

In a compartment there were 8.000 male detainees and typhus was raging. In one of the compartments for women there were 23.000 women and countless corpses were lying about. In a barrack near which there was a heap of corpses dead women were lying in the corridor; in a room opening in the corridor there were so many corpses that it was impossible to add more.

Seventy cent of the detainees required hospitalization and to all probability, 10.000 of them would die before they could be admitted to a hospital.

The morning after the inspection, Brigadier Glyn Hughes toured the camp again together with Kramer, who led him to one of the open graves. The commander was completely insensible and indifferent. "I've been a doctor for thirty years", said Brigadier Glyn Hughes, "I've seen all the horrors of the war but nothing of all the things I've seen can be compared to this." He also said that it seemed that nothing had been done to preserve the life and the health of the detainees.

Shortly after the arrival of the British army the camp was filmed, and the film was shown at the trial of the Belsen camp staff. Speaking about it, Colonel T.M. Backhouse, the chief British prosecutor at the trial, said that the film would give an idea of the degradation human mind could come to. One could see thousands of corpses lying everywhere and the condition the corpses were in. One could see the well-fed countenance of the SS-men who were there. One could see people tying to get water from a cistern but they would not see that the water was dirty and that there were corpses in it. One could see the dead, one could see the living, and one could see the dying. But the film, said he, could not render the terrible smell. The dirtiness and the misery of the place. The stench that was rising to heavens.

I repeat what I have said in the beginning: one who has never been a Häftling cannot perceive in his human mind the inhumanity of a Konzentrationslager, of a concentration camp.







The Nazi was fond of boasting at every step with their promptitude, punctiliousness and foresight when starting on a job. And it was in the very activity in which they were masters -- mass assassination -- they gave proof of a crass lack of foresight.

They started killing without thinking what would they do with the corpses. They inventoried all the methods of killing and ranged them according to the anticipated efficiency. They perfected to detail each method, from the phenol injection made "around" the heart or "directly" onto the heart and, passing through the shooting through the back of the head, to suffocation in smart vans, turned into trailers for excursions or in huge gas chambers.

Busy with establishing and improving the methods of killing, with the more rapid and efficient organization of the assassinations, they purely and simply forget that causing death had a by-product the corpse.

Yes, they started killing without thinking what they would do with the corpses.

In the early part of the fascist darkness, when in the Gestapo Bunkers and in the concentration camps tens and hundreds killed the detainees, the omission went almost unobserved. The victims were incinerated or buried according to the "traditional methods". When assassinations acquired proportions and, in a single camp or in a single forest, the number of those killed in one action amount to thousands or even tens of thousands, it became clear that the "traditional methods" of burial were no longer satisfactory. Therefore, it was restored to huge common graves, in fact one kilometer-long ditches, several meters in depth, in which tens of thousands of corpses were thrown; slake lime was thrown over them, and they were covered with a thick layer of earth.

At the beginning of its existence, the huge concentration camp at Auschwitz was no exception. According to the confession of former commander, Rudolf Höss, "The corpses were to be placed in long and deep trenches, in the nearly gazing ground. We did not think of cremation at that time".

The inadmissible lack of foresight was clearly obvious when the number of those killed in a single camp rose to hundreds of thousands and had to go up to millions. The organizers of the assassinations and especially the hierarchical heads of the concentration camps &emdash; from commanders to the Reichsführere SS Himmler &emdash; started growing impatient. For the millions of corpses trenches, hundreds of kilometers long, would have been needed. And, even the smallest ones, dug and filled with corpses along the forests and plains in the territories occupied in the East, started posing problems. The stench of the decomposing corpses exhaled through the earth layer, causing agitation among the population of the respective regions. In places, the earth had been dug by animals or washed by the waters and the corpses were uncovered, posing the danger of a great epidemic.

The question of preserving the secret was becoming more and more acute, too. The huge common graves, the innumerable trenches filled with corpses were serious proofs of the crimes. Consequently, it was ordered that they were removed in the shortest time. There was only one solution: the exhumation and the cremation of the corpses. Blombel, entrusted this task by Himmler himself, tried at Kulmhof to dispose of the corpses, even by blowing them up, but the method did not yield the desired results. Thus, cremation became general.

At the trial, Rudolf Höss would recall: "In the summer of 1942, we were still burying corpses in common graves. It was only late that summer that we started cremating them, at first by placing some 2.000 corpses on a stack of wood, then in trenches, in the case of the exhumed corpses. The corpses were at first splashed with remounts of oil, and subsequently with the trenches. By the end of November 1942, the trenches were completely empty".

In spite of the efficiency ensured, the method was not approved. The cremation had to be improved.

"From the first open air cremation it was clear that this method could not be of long duration. In bad weather, the smell of burnt meat spread over many square kilometers and made the population living in that zone talk about the burning of the Jews., in spite of the propaganda, promoted by the party and the administrative bodies, which asserted the opposite" (Rudolf Höss).

The professionals of crime were altered. For the first time, those who had as their basic profession death were gathered together for an exchange of experience. All camp commanders were summoned at Sachsenhausen with the purpose of standardizing and improving the shooting in the back of the head. Those who lacked practice were sent to Treblinka to study gassing. However, the main question was not how to produce corpses, but what to do with them.

Rudolf Höss, the commander of the Birkenau-Auschwitz camp, was not satisfied with what he saw in the others camps. Others were dealing with thousands and tens of thousands of corpses. His camp had to be prepared to solve the problem of millions of corpses. And he found the solution: burning them in crematoria. The idea was not new. As early as July 14, 1941, the Erfurt firm "J.A. Topf and Sons", answering a letter from the SS command of the Mauthausen camp, underling in black and white: "In the Topf double coupling crematoria ovens, using coke, 30-35 corpses can be cremated daily, without overburdening the oven. In case the conditions so require, nothing happens even if the cremations go on uninterruptedly day and night".

However, Rudolf Höss needed crematoria in which not tens but thousands, many thousands of corpses could be cremated daily. And he applied himself to the task with the help of the specialists: engineers, technicians, and physicians. All was belonging to the SS. All desirous to kill as much as possible. They brought together, within the same building, the ovens and huge gas chambers.

Every crematorium was built with the Häftlings labor and blood, of course. Tens and tens of thousands of detainees worked day and night whipped by the Kapos, maltreated by the SS-men, to erect the stone and brick walls. According to Nyiszli Miklós' reconstitution, each stone in those walls was splatters with the blood of tens of thousands of hapless detainees who, starved, perched with thirst, scantly dressed, fed with food not fit for pigs even, labored day and night at those terrible death factories, so that their own bodies are consumed by flames, in the ovens built by their own hands. The crematoria were fitted with the most modern installations. The same Nyiszli described them as follows: "The roaring of huge fans, run by electrical engines, is heard; they kindle the fire to heat the ovens at the required temperature. Fifteen such fans are operating simultaneously: one for each oven. The cremation hall is a bright room, some one hundred and fifty meters long, white washed, whit concrete floor and has enormous windows fitted with iron lattice. The fifteen boilers are each separately built into huge red brick constructions. Their massive iron doors, black and shining, range in line along the room.

The first new conception Krematorium, of industrial dimensions, as well as the first modern gas chamber was ready to be inaugurated by the end of February 1943. In one of the minutes of the Nürnberg International Military Tribunal it was recorded: "Important guests from Berlin attended the inauguration of the first crematorium in March 1943. The program provided for the gassing and cremation of 8.000 Jews from Cracow. The guests, among whom there were officers and civilians, were quite satisfied and jostled each other at the peep hole made in the gas chamber door. They vied each other in praising this newly built installation".

But neither the capacity of this crematorium could cope with the rhythm of killing at Birkenau-Auschwitz. Three more such crematoria were quckly built. And thus, in Birkenau, from the spring of 1943 until almost to the end of 1944, crematoria number 1, number 2, number 3 and number 4 functioned day and night (except when under repair).

Speaking about the capacity of the crematoria, Rudolf Höss stated: "The highest figure, in the summer of 1944, during the action in Hungary, amounted, in 24 hours, to something more than 9.000 through gassing and cremation in all the installations we had at our disposal…"

On the day when I arrived with my parents and brothers at Birkenau -- June 9, 1944 -- all four crematoria were functioning. That's why I could not learn, I will never learn, in which of them, whether number 1… 2… 3… or number 4 were my mother Iolanda, my twin brother -- Cornel and Cornelia -- and the youngest of the family -- Valnetin -- cremated.







The elimination of the Jews from the life of Nazi Germany began immediately after Hitler's coming to power and it was done in an organized way, with faultless consistency, with a typically Nazi meticulosity. The persecution of the Jews had become the official state policy. Gradually but perseveringly, the Jews were forbidden all professions, excluded from all activities, removed from all offices. Each blow, interdiction, exclusion was preceded by a certain psychological preparation, which was followed by a decree, by the promulgation of a law or the announcement of an order.

Hover, all this required time, and the Nazi chiefs considered that die Judenverfolgung, the persecution of Jews, was carried on too slowly, and that it was insufficiently harsh and spectacular. They were looking for an opportunity that "would justify" before the international public opinion the passing to a general attack.

And the opportunity came up. On November 7, 1938, a young German-Polish Jew, Herschel Grunspan, entered the Hitlerism embassy in Paris and mortally shot Ernst Von Rath, councilor of the embassy.1

Two days were sufficient for the Gestapo to organize and unleash, all over Germany, einen Judenpogrom, a pogrom against the Jews, that would appear as "eine spontane Volksemporung", "spontaneous public indignation".

The order for the organization, on November 9, 1938, of the "spontaneous indignation" of the people, signed on behalf of the Gestapo by Müller, was sent to all inspectorates and posts of the state police and devastated, but also how many should be arrested: "etwa 20-30.000 Juden", about 20-30.000 Jews. In order that the action would be carried out in the envisaged dimensions, the order stipulated that police appeal to the SS troops.

On the night of 9 to 10 November, the Nazi gangs savagely pounced, as if at a signal, in all the towns of the Reich at the same time, upon the Jewish synagogues and stores, plundering and setting them on fire; they entered the houses killing and robbing; the Jews caught in the streets were abused, maltreated, killed.

The streets were literally covered with the crystal fragments from windows of the broken Jewish stores and the demolished synagogues. Hence the name die Kristallnacht, the night of the crystals, attributed to that night of hatred, madness and crime.

The resulted of the Kristallnaght, the night of the crystals, was somber: 267 synagogues and prayer houses set on fire; over seven thousand Jewish stores completely demolished, others burnt to the ground, tens of thousands of shop windows broken, thousands of enterprises and houses devastated; almost one hundred dead, thousands of wounded; over 26.000 Jews were taken from their beds, arrested and sent to concentration camp. To Buchenwald, to Dachau, to Sachsenhausen.

The consequences of the Kristallnacht, of the crystal night, were even more somber. Only three days later, on November 12, in a meeting presided over by Göring -- attended by Gürtner, the minister of justice, Dr. Frick, the home minister, Heydrich, the chief of the Berlin Gestapo, Funk, the minister of economy, other ministers, including Göbbels, who had stated that the legal way in which the Jewish question was settled in the Reich was the most loyal and human possible -- "it was decided that all the damages produced to the Jewish shops, enterprises and houses on 8/9 and 10/11 November, 1938 should be repaired by the Jewish owners at their own cost". Concomitantly, in consequence to Kristallnacht, the crystal night, in the same meeting, the Jews were assigned, as an atonement, to pay a collective tribute to the Reich amounting to a thousand million marks. "This will subdue [the Jews -- O.L.]" -- Göring observed. "The swains would not commit very soon another assassination".

At the same time, measures that would humiliate "even more" the Jews were discussed. We quote from the minutes of that meeting:

Göring: "… I insist that the concerned authorities should take one after another, the necessary measures for Aryanizing the economy. The basic idea is the following: the Jew is eliminated from the economy and surrenders to the state his economic wealth…"

Göbbels: "…I consider necessary that an order be issued now, whereby the Jews are forbidden to go to German theatres, cinematography and circuses… it is also necessary that the Jews withdraw everywhere from public life… the Jews should be prohibited to go to German spas and holiday resorts… I deem necessary that the Jews be altogether banished from the German schools…"

Heydrich: "… I must take steps in Germany, which would isolate Jews. For isolation, I would make, in brief, suggestion of a police nature, for instance the personal marking of the Jews, by decreeing: Each Jew must wear a certain sign…"

Funk: "The Jew must be squeezed hard".

What following after Kristallnacht, after the crystal night, was best described by Göring himself, who felt the need to exclaim at the end of the meeting to which we referred: "I would not want to be a Jew in Germany".

The point is that, on October 28, 1938, Heydrich's policemen knock at the doors of 17.000 Jews who were Polish citizens and who lived in Germany. Hitler, taking advantage of the fact that the Polish government had cancelled their passports, organized the first great Jew deportation in modern history. Put on board trains and trucks &endash; allowing them to take along, from all their belongings, only as much as they could carry &endash; the thousands of arrested Jews were taken towards the Polish border. In the vicinity of Benshen station, the Jews were disembarked and chased like cattle over the fields toward the east. Heydrich's policemen ruthlessly wielded the horsewhips, cudgels, rifle butts. Old people and women with babies in their arms, the sick collapse exhausted. They are trodden upon. Many could not rise. They remain their forever. Among those hunted down was Sendel Grynszpan with his wife and children. Having reached empty handed in Poland he described what happened in a letter sent to his son Herszel Grynszpan. Determined to take revenge by himself and, at the same time, to draw the attention of the public opinion to the persecution unleashed in Germany against the Jews, Herschel Grunspan (under this name he would become know all over the world, decided to carry out that daring act).







Those who entered the gates of a concentration camp had their fate sealed. The hope to survive was all practical purposes inexistent. For some, it was excluded ab ovo. Among those ranked all those sent to the camp under Kugel-Erlass, the bullet order.

In fact, Aktion-Kugel, action-bullet, referring, first of all, to the extermination of the Soviet prisoners was settled a few days before the unleashing of the aggression against the USSR through the instructions given to the Einsatzgrupen, the operative group, in fact death group, who accompanied the invading arming groups. "There is no reason to have soft feelings for the Russian wae prisoners. Therefore, all Soviet prisoners identified by the Einsatzgrupen, as suspect will be shot without delay.

"After the confirmation of the execution order, it will immediately be carried out. It is not allowed that the Soviet prisoners to whom the measure referred renaming in the respective camps. The executions will not be carried out in the camp or in their vicinity, because they must not be made public. In principle, there should not be witnesses. According to the order of the competent inspectorate in Dresden, the Soviet prisoners identified as suspect will be urgently transported to a concentration camp where the execution will take place…"

Then, on March, 1944, the head of the Gestapo, Heinrich Müller, gave a special order that all military escaped from caps be sent to concentration camp and killed, after their arrival there, with a shot in the back of the head. The orders of the Gestapo were reinforced and enlarged by the Kugel-Erlass, the bullet-order, signed by Marshal Keitel, the supreme commander of the Wehrmacht. It had the following contents:

"To be sent in secret. Secret government business."

"Subject: steps to be taken against the war prisoners who have escaped and are caught, officers and NCO-s who do not work, except the British and American war prisoners. The supreme commander has ordered the following:

  2. Any war prisoner who has escaped and is caught, officer or NCO who does not work, except the British and American war prisoners, must be handed over to the chief of police and security service with mention ´Measure IIIª, no matter if the escape took place during a transport, or if it was a group or individual one.


  3. As the handing over of the war prisoners to the secret police and the security service is absolutely secret, the other war prisoners must not know that the respective prisoners have been caught. The army intelligence will be informed of their escape, but not of the fact that they were caught. Consequent measure will be taken with regard to their correspondence. The same answers will be given to the investigators and to the representatives of the protecting powers, to the International Red Cross and to other assistance bodies."

Through subsequent orders, known as the second Kugel-Erlass, the second bullet-order, the above provisions were extended to the civilian workers who ran away, as well as to the enemy soldiers taken prisoners during sabotage actions, the British and American ones included.

In order to give an outline of what the implementation of Kugel-Erlass, the bullet-order meant, we shall quote from the statement made at Nürnberg by Lieutenant-Colonel Guivante de Saint-Gast and Lieutenant Jean Veith of the French army. "At Mauthausen the prisoners in the Kugel decree. When the transports arrived, the prisoners belonging to the "K" category were not registered, did not receive a number and their names were known only to the officials in the Politische Abteilung1. The "K" prisoners were immediately lead to the jail. They were undressed and taken to the ´shower roomª. The shower room, situated in the basement of the jail, near the crematorium, was specially designed for the execution of the prisoners, either by bullets, or by gassing. An altogether special measuring apparatus was used for this purpose. The prisoner was placed under the apparatus which, automatically, shot a bullet in the back of head the moment the apparatus touched the top of the head. When a transport of "K" prisoners was too large, they did not lose time to measure them; they were exterminated by gassing…"

When he had to account for his deeds, Unterscharführer SS Josef Niedermayer, the head of barrack 20 at Mauthausen, said: "The so-called bullet-order, which I read with my own eyes and which was signed by commander Kaltenbrunner, stipulated that the war prisoners who escaped and were caught, except the British and the American ones, be sent to Mauthausen to be liquidated. Which regard to barrack 20, I received orders from commander Ziereis, from Bachmayer, from Zutter and from Dr. Walter.

I repeat that carried out the executions on receiving orders; had not carried out the orders, I Would have been Killed myself. I took part in about 400 executions in the cells of Captains Bachmayer, Zoller or Lieutenant Altfuldisch.

I had to prepare those selected for execution. I took them to the undressing room, which was the anteroom to the place where the executions were carried out. The executions were directed by commander Ziereis and by Bachmayer or Zoller, by Schults or Altfuldisch or Zutter."







Our barrack is dug into the earth as, in fact, all the barracks of KZ Landsberg. Seen from outside, it looks like a tomb due to its triangular roof. Inside, it resembles a coffin. Yet it is much bigger: it has room for 50 people. There is no furniture. The only item it contains is the iron store placed in the middle of the barrack.

There are not beds. On the right hand, a strip of earth, one and a half meter in width, the length of the barrack, covered by boards: it is the "bed" for twenty five Häftlings. One meter per man. On the left side a similar "bed" for the other twenty-five. Between the two strips a ditch, one meter deep, gives access to the "beds".

However, we feel relieved wen we enter the barrack! It means the end of a tormenting day. That for six hours we shall see no SS-man, the horsewhips will be still, the beatings will cease and the wind won't torment us.

For the moment the iron store gives more smoke than heat. The fir branches brought from the forest are wet and hardly catch fire. But we do not lose courage. Every evening is like this. We have become accustoming to smoke. Lice give us more trouble. They swarm on us in thousands. We shake out the lice from our clothes like dust. Some take off their shirts and place them on the hat iron store. They say that lice's burn quickly. They singe their shirts, but they do not get rid of the lice.

… Now we have a quiet moment in the barrack. Nobody moves. The clothes shaking is over, the talking, as well as the sighing has ceased… Der Künstler, the artist stands up. He will start his program.

Yes, twice a week, and sometimes-even more often, we have a show in our barrack. The team consists of a single Künstler, artist: Häftling S.

"Mr. Artist", as most people call him, is a newcomer in our barrack. From the first day he told us his whole life. He enthusiastically spoke of his successes on the stages of the theatres of Budapest, about the life of the artists, and about his plans. For days on end he spoke of his wife.

"Her name is Szilágyi Szabó Eszter"; he used to tell us. "You must know her. She is a cinema star. We got married last year. We did not register our marriage at the mayor's office. You know, I love her very much. She is a Christian. I am a Jew. I would not want her come to grief on my account."

One day, he took out a photograph from his pocket. Look at her! You must not say I am boasting. The photo passed from hand to hand. "How did you save the photo?" We asked. "I have not been at Auschwitz. The Jews of Budapest were not deported. Yet, when the szalasysts took over the power there started some terrible pogroms. The Jews were taken out by tens of thousands from their houses and under the threat of machine-guns were led away and pushed into the Danube. I was caught by chance in the street, like many others, and from Budapest we were taken directly to the concentration camps".

 Der Künstler, artist S. has an extraordinary memory. He not only knows all the roles he played, but also full plays.

He has the talent to change his voice, to use such varied intonations in his speech that if one close one's eyes gets the impression that each part is played by another artist. When it's over, there is a storm of applause's, and his eyes sparkle with joy. The applause's are but a down payment. The true reward for his talent he receives next evening. When food arrives, one of us takes a mess tin and goes with it to all the people in the barrack. Each Häftling gives a spoon or at least half a spoon of food for the artist. It adds up to almost a full helping. While everybody is clapping, the mess tin with the new helping of food is handed over to the artist.

In the Nazi concentration camps, each drop of is a treasure. Many a time one must witness the sad performance of three-four Häftlings falling upon a potato peel. The SS-men look on with satisfaction and smile to each other: We succeeded! We stifled their dignity.

It's not true! It as a lie. The SS people delude themselves! The truth is that in a camp surrounded by barbed wire and guarded by stupid SS-men, the Häftlings of a barrack, sentenced to death, give twice a week, give willingly, with all their hearts, a spoon of food for the artist, for art, for life!

I became friendly with the artist. When we go to work we always go into same row. "When I shall be again free", he used to tell me, "I shall give a big performance in the honor of you people, of all those who came to know each other here, in the camp. I shall announce the performance months in advance, through the newspapers, so that you all come. The setting will be sober. The stage will represent the interior of a barrack. I shall play dressed in the clothes of a Häftling. After the performance we shall have a banquet. I won't order food for myself. I shall keep the present mess tin. I shall go in turn to each of you and ask for a spoon of food. It will be an unforgettable banquet. All the newspapers will write about it."

 Häftling S. did not perform again in Budapest. Neither the banquet took place. Häftling S. died, of starvation, two days before liberation. 


To Oliver Lustig's Biographical Sketch

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