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Birkenau-Auschwitz and Dachau Holocaust Survivor


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Postscript (1)

Postscript (2)






Postscript (1)


There were many readers of my books on Nazi concentration camps who wondered why at the age of 18, which was my age at the time, I did not attempt to escape. How could an eighteen years old young man comply with beating and torture, waiting to be selected for the gas chamber? How could one, at the age of 18, accept the idea that there was no chance of survival and yet make no attempt to escape?

If... if near camp E -- Birkenau II¸ where I was -- there had been a forest, perhaps I or someone else of my he would have attempted going through the barbed the 32 barracks of camp E although the contact with the wire meant instantaneous charring. The hope that we might have hidden in the forest had probably given us the courage to try.

If... if in the vicinity of camp E -- Birkenau II there had been a river, perhaps I or someone else of my age would have forced destiny and try to reach it, although the SS men in the watch towers of the camp would have pulled the trigger and killed us before touching the barbed-wire. The hope that we might have swum beneath the water and mover away from the camp had probably given us the power to try.

If... if near the camp E -- Birkenau II there had been a human settlement, perhaps I or someone else of my age would have tried to reach it, although the wolf-dogs would have torn us up before making one step towards freedom. The hope, however, that in that settlement we might have found someone to shelter us had probably given us the strength to try.

But around camp E -- Birkenau II there was no forest, no river, no human settlement, but just camps, barbed wire fences carrying high voltage current, just watch towers with SS men ready to shoot, and wolf dogs ready to tear you to pieces.

If I or someone else had made the impossible and escape through one side of camp E -- Birkenau II, we would have found ourselves in camp F, then in camp G. If we had tried to opposite side, we would have found ourselves in camp D, then in camp C, then in camp B and finally in camp A. If we had tried the main gates, we would have only reached the camps of Birkenau III, and if we had tried the back fence -- we would have reached the camps of Birkenau IV.

It was not the fear or the electric current, of bullets or wold-dogs that paralyzed us. We had learned not to fear death any more. It was the lack of any chance of success that paralyzed us. The high voltage barbed wire fence we used to look at through the black smoke of the crematoria day and night did not separate camp E from the life towards witch we wanted to escape, but actually linked it to camps A, B, C, D, F, G...

Therefore, if the only chance of escaping from one camp was that of founding your self in another camp, than wherefrom could you take the necessary strength to force the destiny?

The same readers wondered why at the age of 18, as I had at the time, the age of fearlessness, I and many like me passively endured all the suffering we were put to without revolting. We knew that death was all that was at stake any yet we did not revolt. We witnessed thousands of us, the assassination of another thousands and yet nobody tried to kill an SS man. Why?

If... if there had been the slightest chance that a gesture of protest, an instance of revolt, either individual or collective, would have led to a kind trial, no matter how improvised, when one could face the butchers and expose their crimes, then there would have been not just one but thousands of people ready to risk their lives, if that helped alleviating the suffering of the others.

If... if there had been a chance, no matter how slight or remote, that by mass insubordination or hunger strike we drew the attention of public opinion upon ourselves, let them know about the existence of a death factory at Birkenau, then I am sure thousand of Häftlings would have been ready, any time and whatever the risk, to make the horrible crimes perpetrated in the concentration camps, covered by the smoke of the crematoria, reach the other would, the could we have been rooted out from for ever.

Nazi concentration camps, however, had nothing in common with the prisons and camp known throughout history, with their detention regime. At Birkenau-Auschwitz mass extermination was the very reason of begin of the camp; none of the executioners there was supposed to account for how many Häftlings he killed each day and why.

If during the roll call or a selection review a Häftlings had rushed upon one of the SS men, they would have shot not only the respective Häftlings, but also the whole row and perhaps the neighboring rows, too, on the spot. Or, they might have killed all the Häftlings in the Appellplatz. Without a word and without trial. How many detainees from our barrack had been exterminated that day and why would have been a mystery even to the Häftlings in the adjoining camp, separated from us only by a barbed wire fence.

The only instance of heroism, of courage, Then, there, at Birkenau-Auschwitz, was survival.

It was harder, almost unbearable, to stand at attention and watch hopelessly the SS men trampling underfoot your brother, torturing your father... or hanging your best friend than to rush upon one of the executioners and strangle him to death. But how could you take such a desperate decision when you knew that it meant not only your death but also the death of those around you, perhaps of the whole barrack.

And yet, to show that it was not the fear of death or cowardliness that prevented the Häftlings from defying the SS men, o0nce there was a rebellion, a tragic and desperate rebellion at Birkenau-Auschwitz. It has been described under the heading Aufstand in the present book.




Postscript (2)


The first edition of the present book, called Camp Dictionary, was published also in German. After reading it in one night, young Richard Bichler1, whon I had met a day before while making some research in the archives of the aDachau Museum, asked me the next day, obviously excited, but in a frank friendly way: "Why so much death and blood in this book?", or to be more precise: "Why are there only death and blood in more than 250 pages?"

Seeing his embarrassment, I patiently let him finish what he had to say. After a short pause, he went on: "The picture of the concentration camp is described in a most touching way. I'm aware that it must have been a terrible ordeal, that death was at home there. Please, don't take it amiss and don't misunderstand me, but I can't help wondering about one thing: wasn't there, in the concentration camps, anything positive, any kind gesture, any humane behavior at all? Because in the absence of such things, even if very few or unimportant, I think life is impossible. You wrote this book in 1982. Is it not possible that in the meantime, during those 37 years that have passed since those days, the positive, humane facts and behavior that must have occurred were effaced from your mind which retained instead and for ever only the awful moments and terrible suffering you witnessed and experienced yourself?"

My dear friend from the Federal Republic of Germany, dear Richard Bichler, I shall try to give an answer to you and the young men belonging to your generation who take an interest in history, and particularly in the traumas caused by Nazi domination, in the lesson taught by the Second World War triggered off half a century ago.

First I would like to make it clear that the book under discussion, Camp Dictionary, is not a book about Germany under Nazism, but about the language used in concentration camps. As these made up a true death empire, the language used was inevitably a lethal language. In this book I write about SS men, Aufseherin (female SS overseer) and Kapo, about Himmler, Eichmann, Höss, Ilse Koch, Mengele and Rascher, and there was nothing positive, beautiful or humane about those "death archangels."

In this book I write about Durchgangsghetto (transition ghetto), Konzentrationslager (concentration camp) and Scheiberhaufen (pyre), and those were places where nothing happened but death; they were all parts of a huge death "conveyor belt."

In this book I write about Judenverfolgung (persecution of Jews), Endlosung (final solution) and Leichenflederei (robbing of corpses), about Bestialität ( bestiality), Ermörden (killing), Erhängungen (hanging), Sterilisierungsprogramm (sterilization program), Vergasung (gassing) and Vermichtung durch Arbeit (extermination through work), and I am afraid one cannot find anything good, beautiful or humane in that endless series of insane methods. They had all been devised and implemented as means of destruction, as instruments of death. Or course, in the struggle for survival there were instances of touching solidarity, of mutual help among detainees, instances of dignity and courage in front of death, instances of strong resistance and dramatic fight against terror and dehumanization. Likewise, there were instances, although extremely few and always isolated, of humane behavior on the part of some guardians. But, my dear friend, in the book you read I wrote only about the language used in the concentration camps, and that was undoubtedly a death language. All names, inscriptions and orders meant &emdash; either overtly or in a cynical disguise &emdash; suffering, torture, blood and death.

There were, of course, technical words such as Beruf (profession), Belchnung (reward), Experimente (experiment), Injektion (injection), Präzision (precision), Verbesserung (improvement), but they were linked to deaths well: the profession was that of killer, the reward was given for perfect assassinates, experiments were made on living people, injections were lethal, the precision regarded the establishing of how many, where, when and how people were to be exterminate while improvement referred to gassing, to the working of the death conveyor belt.

There was also the word Nenschlichkeit, but it only differentiated various assassination modalities. For instance, Standartenführer SS Anton Kaindl, commander of the Sachsenhausen camp, found extermination by gassing is humaner, more humane, than extermination by shooting or hanging.

I know, my dear Richard, hat many people from your parents' generation, that is the generation that went through the Second World War, keep asking: "How long are we going to think about the past, to blame ourselves, to let ourselves ravaged by remorse's. Over four decades have past since then." At least now, they say, "when we are old, we have the right to a little bit of peace. Let bygones be bygones, let us forget."

Only that what happened in the concentration camp cannot be forgotten. Nor do have we the right to forget. After the liberation I hoped I would forget, I hoped I would know rest myself. But the wounds would not heal up. They disregard the passing years and keep on bleeding. The retinas of my eyes and of the other survivors still retain the sinister faces of the Gestapo who savagely invaded our homes, took us out of our beds, separating husbands from wives, parents from children, and dragged whole families to prisons and camps. We can still see the appalling sight of tortured people, of comrades ploughed down by machine-guns who rolled down into the pits they had been forced to dig themselves, of columns of mothers and children -- our mothers and brothers -- headed towards the gas chambers; the smoke of the crematoria and the smell of burnt flesh had so strongly penetrated each fiber of our bodies that it simply cannot be removed.

How could we forget the Holocaust, how could we bury it in the drawers of history when there are still people who have not ceased looking for their brothers and sisters deported to the concentration camps, hoping if not to find them alive at least to know when, how and where they died, In 1981 I attended the meeting of the Holocaust survivors held in Jerusalem. Over 7.000 survivors of those more than six million people deported to the concentration camp for the only fault of having been born Jews gathered there, coming from all over the world. Many of the participants -- who after 36 years still refused to comply with the idea that all six million remained there for ever -- carried posters with the names of their parents, brothers or children. After each name the same questions: "Who knew him (her)?", "Who sax him (her)?", "Who heard about him (her)?"

Some other people of the same generation say: "After 45 years, if you cannot forget it would be a good thing to forgive". But who gives me the right to forgive? The millions of victims of the concentration camps do not exist any more, and nobody has the right to forgive on their behalf. For instance, how could I forgive on behalf of my own mother? Do I know what she felt, what she thought about when she entered, along with my three younger brothers, one of the gas chambers at Birkenau? Can I or any other survivor forgive on behalf of thousands of Häftlings shot in the backhand, hung, injected with phenol, asphyxiated, burnt in crematoria or on huge pyres in the summer of 1944, when the capacity of the capacity of the modern ovens of Auschwitz proved insufficient?

Unfortunately, there are voices demanding that one should not talk and write about concentration camps any more, that accounts about the Nazi crimes should stop. "How long", they cynically ask, is the story of concentration camps and gas chambers, the existence of which is not proved in any way whatsoever, everything being nothing else but mere propaganda, going to be taken over and over again?" Yes, such voices have waited decades on end until the rows of the painfully few survivors thinned and now, with cynical arrogance, they have passed on to the offensive: they deny the existence of gas chambers and question the scope of the Holocaust, discarding the crime of century, nay of the second millenium, the biggest crime perpetrated by human civilization so far -- the concentration camp with their millions of victims &emdash; as "mere propaganda".

That is the reason why, my dear young friend, we, the survivors, do not have the right to forget as long as some of the criminals who have perpetrated monstrous crimes in the concentration camps are still alive and unpunished, as long as there are people who deny those crimes, trying instead to rehabilitate the culprits, and to revive, under new disguises, the sinister Nazi ideas. Incredible as it may seem, there are people who have got sick of recollections and of being told about the Häftlings' sufferings, but are not displeased with the neo-Nazis' resuming and promoting radicalism theses, hatred and contempt towards man.

If such people existed among the younger generation as well, this would mean that we, the former detainees of the concentration camps, had failed from doing our duty, from keeping the pledge we took to our comrades, whose last cry before being shot, hung or taken to the gas chamber had been: "Don't forget us!" we have sworn to keep their memory alive and expose the Nazi crimes, to inoculate the younger generations with love for life, but also with hatred from fascism, to warn them against the danger of its revival.

As far as I am concerned, I cannot help thinking about the fact that the victims of the Holocaust were forbidden burial in the European grounds. The ashes of the six million Jews incinerated in crematoria was carried away by the Vistula towards the seas and oceans of the word, or scattered by the winds all over the plains and forests of our old continent. Since they do not have a grave, they can only rest in the memory of mankind. That is why mankind must not forget them, and we, the survivors, have the sacred duty not to let them be forgotten. That is why, as I pointed out at the end of some other book, I will go on writing about those who remained there for ever, so that they should not be forgotten, as long as I am able to hold a fountain pen in my hand… I will write about them with the feeling that in this way I am helping them get out of the common pits and marshes, from under mountain-high heaps of ashes or from blood rivers, to sleep a quiet sleep in the memory of mankind for ever.

That is why so far I have written eight books about concentration camps, one of which deals with the language used in those camps. Unfortunately, as you rightly pointed out, my dear Richard, in such a book there could not be place but for blood and death.

A 22 years old mechanic living in Dachau, who is an active militant for peace and fights against war. He is passionately fond of history.


To Oliver Lustig's Biographical Sketch
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