The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

The Dentist of Auschwitz

Chapter 8

By the end of August the warm weather had come to an end. One day when we returned to camp, Chaim looked at me uneasily and said, "Krusche wants to see you, in the first aid room."

"Why?" I asked. "What does he want me for?"

"He just wants to see you," he repeated. His face showed concern, and I was sure that he was hiding something. No one was called to Krusche without a reason. I thought that Chaim knew more.

"What does he want of me?" I asked again, frightened. He looked around and then whispered that Krusche knew about our bakery ventures. I grasped my predicament, and immediately fear shot down my spine. "Who told him? How did he find out?" These were the big questions that troubled me.

"I think one of your group told him." I couldn't believe it. One of us? Why? "I think it was Baran," he mumbled. I was stunned. Feivel Baran, a respected man from one of the most outstanding families in Dobra? The student of the acclaimed Gerer Rabbi Yeshiva? I could hardly believe that he could squeal on his fellow prisoners. With Krusche waiting, Chaim urged me to come, and I followed him.

When we entered the first aid room, the raffish German stood, feet apart, whip in hand, with Cheetah, the fierce German shepherd, at his side. Krusche's face, never pleasant with its cramped lips, now looked full of violence. "Herr Lagerführer, Bronek Jakubowicz obediently reports as ordered," I announced myself, expecting the worst. His heartless eyes speared me and made me believe I was standing before a tribunal of one. I had good reason to be frightened.

With his eyes riveted on me, he tied Cheetah to a chair. Then he came within centimeters of my face. I could smell his foul breath and feel his blazing anger, and in his guttural German he yelled: "Du Schweinehund, which guard let you go to the bakery and buy bread? Which one?"

I cringed. I had to gather enough courage to lie. I knew I couldn't name Tadek. "Herr Lagerführer, we did not buy any bread. People left it for us on the road," I mumbled.

He was convinced that I was lying, and his voice rose and became loud and threatening. I realized that he was mostly interested in the guard who had allowed us to leave the group. "You damned Jews, all you know is lying. I know you bought bread. Who permitted you to go into the bakery?" This time he struck my face with his gloves. "Tell me who let you leave!" He was furious. I saw that it was too late for me to admit having bought bread.

My heart pounded. Cold sweat ran down my spine. I had given Tadek my word not to give him away, and I had to stick to it. Besides, I thought, what I might say wouldn't matter now. Krusche would punish me just the same. I bit my lips, dug my fingernails deep into the palms of my hands until it hurt, and repeated the lie. "Herr Lagerführer, the only bread we had outside was what people left for us on the road."

But nothing would dissuade him, and he came violently at me again. This time I was sure he would kill me. He tore at me, hitting both sides of my face with his gloves. My head bobbed like a ping pong ball. Cheetah barked and foamed at the mouth, trying to get close and grab me. I was lucky that Chaim held her back, or she'd have torn me apart. Though my courage was waning, I kept telling myself, "Don't give in." It seemed that my persistent lie obsessed Krusche, and he was intent on punishing me rather than trying to get at the truth. Blood spattered from my mouth and nose onto my clothing and the floor. My stomach cramped. Will it ever end? I wondered.

Krusche picked up his leather-covered wire whip and handed it to Chaim. The real torture was about to begin. Krusche ordered me to lean over a chair and lower my pants, and then he ordered Chaim to dole out twenty-five lashes on my naked behind. I knew that Chaim wanted desperately not to have to do it. Chaim's whip came down hard, but not hard enough for Krusche's liking. Krusche took the whip and landed three very slow and deliberate blows on my rear. "This is how you do it," he said, and he made Chaim begin all over again. This time I was ordered to do the counting.

One, two, three...I sensed when the whip rose and gritted my teeth until it landed. "One at a time," Krusche said. "Slowly. Let him suffer." The time of waiting between the blows doubled my pain. I bit my lips until they bled. And so it went on, seemingly forever. The last number I remembered counting was fifteen. I heard Krusche rumbling, "Slower. Harder." At that point, I thought, life had left me, and I remembered nothing further.

By the time I realized I was still alive, I was on the corridor floor, still only half conscious, with my hands on my belly, doubled over with pain. I saw Papa and a few other inmates leaning over me, staring. I felt numb. Slowly I grew conscious and remembered what had happened. Papa and some others tried to help me to my feet. I got up, staggering. Blood was dripping from my mouth and nose. Papa ordered me to tilt my head back until the bleeding stopped. He shared all of my anguish. When they got me to the washroom, I saw Krusche's fingerprints on my face. Because of my bludgeoned behind, I walked with my legs wide apart, trying to keep my clothes from brushing against my flesh. The most persistent and excruciating pain, however, was in my stomach.

Then I returned to the room and slid into my bunk. I pondered, wondering whether there was really a God, as I was taught to believe. I wallowed on the bunk. I thought about Feivel. Something must have gone wrong with his mind. How could he, also an inmate here, turn on his brothers? Perhaps he wanted to ingratiate himself with Krusche? These and other questions raced through my head.

It was the first time Krusche had punished any of us so brutally. As the night continued and the throbbing in my stomach didn't subside, I wondered, Will I have to live with this pain from now on? The pain did not stop then and has not ever since.

Streaks of dawn found their way through our dirty windows. When the bells rang, I was already in the washroom, wiping my face and putting cold water on my behind. As my group assembled, I saw Krusche talking to Chaim. Chaim was his most-trusted policeman, and Krusche passed most of his orders concerning us through him. Then I saw Chaim go to the gate and call the head guard, Tadek. They returned and stopped before Krusche. Tadek saluted him with "Heil Hitler."

"This is a Jew swine!" Krusche shouted to Tadek, pointing at me. "Did you know that he has been leaving the group to buy bread?"

I wondered how Tadek would respond. "I don't know anything about that, Herr Hauptscharführer," he answered.

Krusche didn't ask him anything further. My misdeed was then far more important to him, and pointing again at me, he said, "He will be replaced as group leader at once."

"Jawohl," Tadek said obediently.

"One of these days I'll hang him," Krusche said. This brought silence. "Does anyone in this group speak German?" he asked. At first no one responded, but when Chaim repeated it, his nephew, Chaskel, raised his arm and stepped forward. I knew Chaskel well. He barely knew Polish, and the German he spoke was just a broken Yiddish. As Chaskel took my place, I went to stand in line next to my father. Krusche then instructed Tadek to tell the foreman that I was to work at the hardest possible job, so that I might perish. An obedient "Jawohl" from the guard followed.

Krusche, of course, knew that I worked in the office. When we finally left, he gritted his teeth. Four hundred pairs of feet stomped through the gate, and a ribbon of men moved out. It was hard for me to keep up, walking with my legs wide apart. Getting bread from the bakery was now a dead issue.

Krusche's threat terrified me. I knew if he wanted to he could hang me at any time. It was the norm for the Nazis to use hanging as an example, to warn others; they had hanged my friend Szymon, in Dobra. I walked out of the camp dejected, disgraced, and fearful.

Later on Chaskel came and apologized. He said he was "sorry." After all, someone had to take my place. He said he hoped I bore him no ill will. I knew my relatively easy life in Steineck was over. What was the future? What would happen to me in Brodzice?

When we arrived at the workplace, Tadek told Witczak what had happened. Sensing some unusual conversation, Stasia opened the kitchen door and listened. Tadek then dutifully said to Witczak that he ought to send me to the hardest job at the site. I agonized on hearing it, but Witczak turned to the foremen. Shrugging his shoulders, he said, "OK. Take your men, and let's go to work." I wasn't sure where I was to go. I did not think that returning to the office was my right, under these circumstances. But when I went to the shed, Witczak called me back. He ordered me to go to the office and do what I had done all along. Tadek once more reminded him of his orders from the Kommandant. "Yes, yes," Witczak retorted. "I know." Before Tadek could argue with him further, he was gone.

I knew that Witczak didn't like to be told what to do, but defying an SS man put him, in my mind, in a different category. I feared that Witczak's refusal to follow Krusche's orders would anger Krusche even more. It reminded me that often when two people quarrel, the bystander gets the blame. Though they hated the Germans, the three Poles ran the project for them as if it had been their own. They must have known their diligence helped the Nazis. Perhaps we all did.

When I told Stasia how all this had come about, she said, "It was dumb of you to take such a risk. You know the Germans." Then, with a look of patronage, she added, "Mr. Witczak said that the Kommandant is not running this company. We decide where people work here." With this she walked out, holding her head triumphantly. I was grateful. There were certainly others who could do this work as well as I could.

When I asked Feivel why he had squealed, he turned away, mumbled something inaudible, and left me like a hunted fox. I still couldn't figure him out. Had madness gained the upper hand with him? Perhaps hunger, hard work, isolation, and fear had jostled his mind. It was hard to believe how he, once a decent human being, could undergo such a change. The favors he may have expected in return from Krusche never materialized. When Kmiec and Basiak learned what had happened, they also were determined to keep me in the office. At this point my fate was in their hands.

At noon I left to meet Zosia. Along the way I stopped in the wheat field and dabbed tincture of iodine on my wounds. In the sunlight, I could see how bug-eaten my naked body was. I dressed and went to the edge of the forest. Seeing my battered face, Zosia wanted to know what had happened. I explained. I felt so humiliated and hurt that our meeting that day didn't last very long. Romance was the farthest thing from my mind.

Tadek had not come near me much all day. But on the return to camp that afternoon, we spoke. He knew I had kept my word to him and did not tell Krusche about his involvement in getting the bread. He was still my friend, as he would prove later on. That evening Chaim told me that what he did to me hurt him as well--but he had no choice. I knew that under the new laws we had to live by, if he had disobeyed Krusche, he would have in the end also landed on the chair.

When I fell asleep that night, I had a strange feeling. I saw myself on the gallows, and I woke up in a sweat. I wasn't willing to see Krusche make good on his threat. Life was still too precious to lose it here, in this godforsaken place. The next day Zosia said that she thought I ought to escape. The question was, Where would I go? Returning to the ghetto was out. Besides, I could not leave my father.

My bruised face turned colors. One eye was purple and half shut. My stomach throbbed as if I had a screwdriver turning inside my guts. When I ate something, the ache subsided for a while, only to return with more vengeance. My two terms of biology in school were of no help in diagnosing myself. I felt as if I were returning to a nightmare each day as I came back to Steineck.

I feared being caught by Krusche in the first aid room. But when Goldstein called me, I had to go. The place felt like a torture chamber, and I left as quickly as I could. At roll calls I hid behind my father to escape Krusche's stare. Our guards were now extra cautious when we passed the forbidden bakery every morning. I wondered if the bakers knew why we weren't buying bread from them anymore.

Tadek let me know that Krusche, hearing his orders were not obeyed, had reminded the guards that his orders concerning me must be followed. When we got to Brodzice, Witczak was irritated by that order. "We don't take orders from your Lagerführer," he said with finality. I went to the office, uneasy about what the future held for me. I didn't like my role in this power struggle. I remembered an old saying: "In a two-man fight for power, the innocent are most often hurt."

Shortly before noon I went over the hill in back of the barracks and undressed. My underwear was bloody and crawling with pests. Once more I tried the experiment. I covered my clothes with soil and waited for the bugs to appear. But as before, it didn't work. I returned to picking off as many as I could and killing them one by one.

The next day we got a note from Pola:

We are happy you found someone as kind as Zosia. Our condition has worsened. We get only a kilo of bread each day and soup. Josek no longer has to report each day to the labor office. He works steadily at cleaning the army barracks. With the help of our friends, our former neighbors, we still manage. But that is not true for most here in the ghetto. Young and old are dying of hunger every day. I wish I had better news for you.

How are you, and Papa? Please write.

It had been raining for days. Our clothes, now threadbare, were drenched and foul-smelling. I continued to dread the return to camp and Krusche. What if he asked me where I now worked? What if he found out his orders had been ignored? For a Pole to thumb his nose at a Nazi officer was unprecedented. This time, I thought, Witczak had dared too much.

When the bell rang early each morning, I opened my eyes. Then, shunning the reality of another miserable day, I closed them again. Papa tugged on my blanket, and I knew I had to get up.

With Krusche present at roll calls, tension grew. We had to count, yelling our names aloud over and over again. Whoever failed to shout was in for a lash or two. One morning Krusche asked Tadek where I was working. Tadek said that despite his reminding Witczak, I was still working in the office. Krusche was furious. Gnashing his teeth, he pointed his index finger at Tadek and bellowed, "I'll be out there. Tell them I'll be out there today. Understood?"

"Jawohl, Herr Lagerführer," Tadek dutifully answered. I was now in the middle of a conflict between Krusche and Witczak. I knew I would be the loser in the end. When I told Witczak about Krusche's intention, he seemed unworried. I also told Basiak that I would go to work elsewhere to avoid controversy. But he also said no. Kmiec was annoyed as well. "That son of a bitch," he said. "We don't interfere in his affairs. Once and for all he has to learn not to interfere in ours."

Stasia, who listened to it all, had a helpful word. "Bronek, you see, they like you. You are different than the others."

"Stasia, it is because you know me that you feel this way," I said. "All inmates are like me." Nevertheless, I was grateful that Witczak had stood up to a Nazi in defense of me, a Jew.

Halfway through the morning I noticed that a car drove up to the office and stopped. Krusche got out with two SS corporals in tow. Kmiec went out to greet them, and Witczak joined them shortly. At first they spoke casually and went to inspect the work sites. Half an hour later they returned. Krusche and his two companions got in their Mercedes and left. Witczak and Kmiec returned to work, without saying anything to me. Later I saw Witczak with Stasia. I knew she would know what had happened. When she came into the office, her face beamed. She looked as if she had good news. "Did you hear," she said to me in a whisper, "what Witczak told your Kommandant?"

"No, Stasia. What did he tell him?"

"You'd have loved hearing it, Bronek." Her admiration for Witczak was obvious. "This Kommandant of yours hates you," she muttered. I agreed. Who knew this better than I? "But, you know, Witczak isn't afraid of him!" Now her face took on an expression of patronage.

"What happened?" I urged her on.

"Krusche insisted we put you to hard work here, but we, I mean Mr. Witczak, doesn't care what he wants. Witczak told Krusche that we know what's best for the company and he will keep you working right here in the office." Though I couldn't know what the final outcome of this would be, I admired what Witczak had done. I continued on my job and had the benefits that came with it. The most important one, of course, was that I could go on seeing Zosia.

I know I lived a life of double standards--while I dreaded being in camp, going to Brodzice each day was a relief. In the meantime, my face, partly black from Krusche's beating, now turned green and yellow. The sores in my mouth had healed, but the pain in my stomach grew worse.

An unexplained magical love drew me to Zosia. Her love returned a lot of what had been so abruptly taken from me. I saw her now as often as I could. The next time we met was a cool day. She was wearing a thin dress, and as we sat down, she began to shiver. Then the sun broke through and warmed our small hideout. I looked at her. She was exactly the girl I had dreamed I would find someday. At that time, when I could no longer think of myself as being human, she made my life worthwhile. We remained sitting there, watching swallows swooping effortlessly, catching insects in the air. We could have stayed together for hours.

Witczak broke his habit of never seeming too friendly to me. He sat down and asked me where I was from, why I was in camp, and other such questions. But he didn't say anything about the conversation he had had with Krusche about me, nor did I ask him about it. At the end of our talk, he ordered me to check with each foreman, to see if all inmates recorded at our camp were at work.

It was heartbreaking to see some of our people standing ankle-deep in mud, lifting fourteen-kilo shovelfuls of dirt onto the wheelbarrows. The skin on their hands was calloused and cracked. Some even had open wounds. When I told Basiak about it, despite his sympathy, he said that as long as the camp sent them, they had better be put to work. On our way home, clouds grew thicker, and suddenly it began to rain heavily.

At the food line inmates milled around, trying to barter cigarettes at the kitchen window for anything edible. The cigarettes were discarded butts rolled in plain paper. Usually the policemen and the cooks were their best customers. Once I saw an inmate picking up a thrown-away cigarette butt. Seeing this, the foreman stepped on it and squashed it. Ahead of me in the line was David Kot, a friend of mine. "Take the ladle down to the bottom, please," he said. He passed by me mumbling disappointedly. There wasn't a single potato in his soup. We were a sorry lot, looking like the unsociable creatures portrayed in propaganda. Some days, the sight of my body filled me with disgust. I was sickened seeing what the bugs had done to me, and sometimes I even felt them crawling inside me.

It was October 1941, a month after the second anniversary of the Blitzkrieg, which Hitler claimed would catapult the Third Reich into a thousand-year reign. We were resigned to Churchill's prediction: "This will be a long war." Our hopes for a quick ending to our misery looked very dim. We were distressed by a new rumor that special Nazi units were killing entire Jewish communities. My father would not believe it. It seemed so outrageous that those who feared it, they refused to believe it. One day I saw Papa chanting quietly. It was the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur. It was inconceivable not to fast or worship on the day of atonement. Yet here, this most solemn day passed like any other.

As we went to work that Yom Kippur, I recalled a particular incident when my brother and two friends of his were once seen in a restaurant on this holiday. At the next services in the Temple, our unduly pious rabbi insisted that, in the eyes of God, that crime disgraced the entire community. All of us, he said, must pray to the Almighty for forgiveness.

If God is really for us, why is all this happening? Has he decided that we do not deserve better? I wasn't sure of many things I once was told to believe. I questioned God and my faith in him. Did he really exist? I knew that my father would never agree with my thoughts. He would never waver from his beliefs.

Each day my stomach pain became more intense. This did not escape Zosia's notice. She advised me to tell our camp doctor. "We don't have a doctor in camp," I replied. After a minute of silence, she said that she had an idea. She would go to a doctor and make my symptoms hers. Whatever he prescribed for her as medication she would bring to me.

One morning Marek wanted me to come along with him to the spring. I knew something was on his mind. We were hardly halfway there when he stopped. "Don't tell anybody," he cautioned. "I am going to escape from here." It shouldn't have surprised me. I knew he was extremely depressed. Those who were less affluent at home adapted to life in the camp better than he and others like him. For them the degradation was unbearably hard. Though I knew the risk he was taking, I could not and would not try to change his mind.

"Marek, watch out. Don't get caught," I warned.

He looked at me, and I saw his determination. He told me that as soon as he brought enough water to last Stasia through the day, he would make a run for it. At about two o'clock he peeked in the office window and waved good-bye to me. I went out, we shook hands for the last time, and I wished him good luck. Then I saw him slip over the hill. As he was the first one to flee from Steineck, I had no idea of the consequences of his action on the rest of us.

No one noticed that he had gone during the day, and by the time we left Brodzice, the guards could only report him missing in camp. The following morning Krusche asked who knew of Marek's escape beforehand. He got silence in return. Then he threatened us all. "If anyone escapes again, you will all be responsible for it. For each one that escapes, I'll hang ten of you," he said. A few days later he claimed that Marek had been caught and executed, though it couldn't be confirmed. I hoped that by some miracle he had made it back to his family and that Krusche had told us a lie.

The weather was deteriorating, and dusk nudged itself in earlier each day. All that remained of the once-burgeoning wheat and rye fields were short, dry, stubby roots. The cycle completed, they too withered and died. I remembered that after our potatoes were put in the cellar at home, we kids still found some under the bushes. We would then gather dry twigs and build a fire and bake them. Even Mama's kitchen-cooked potatoes could not compete with our cookout.

Cold, drizzly weather had arrived. Most of our clothing was just layers of tatters, and our shoes had long since fallen apart. Just getting to work was a struggle. Some inmates made it through the day by sheer force of will. One day a fellow inmate collapsed from weakness. I was told that the foreman just left him there, because he didn't want to disrupt the others' work. When we finally brought him into the camp, no miracle could save him. On his skin feasted thousands of bugs. Paradoxically, I thought, their feast would end soon. He died before dawn. Scenes like this would become common. Many died soon afterward, but his death, the first one, was the most shocking.

Zosia said that when she described "her" discomforts to the doctor, he diagnosed a duodenal ulcer. She brought me belladonna, a powdery antacid, Papaverine pills, and a liquid acid-neutralizer. It is not a cure, the doctor told her, but it should make her discomfort more bearable. The antacid helped my heartburn, but the Papaverine seemed to dry my mouth.

The landscape was changing with the seasons. Trees were bare, and winds whirled around with fury. Though malnutrition and hard work had already taken its toll, the winter cold would be even more devastating. It was November 11, Poland's independence day, when two of our inmates collapsed at work. No one could help them, and no one could even try. Their lives simply ended. This happened so often that we now carried stretchers to work with us all the time. A new term, Mussulman, was born, probably because of the ashen color of the faces of these inmates who were "on the way out." Their eyes deep in the sockets reminded us of desert people. While no one could tell who would survive, the next victim could often be predicted. Yet everyone was sent out to work every day. The sick wobbled and staggered to make it to work, and some never came back alive.

As the tragedy of knowing we were on a path to disaster grew, our senses dulled, and indifference set in. The will to go on ran up against our painful helplessness. Nobody felt much bereavement at the sight of fellow inmates dying. Mayer Siskind, just twenty-seven, was next. What I once believed--that needing our work, they would keep us alive--was obviously not their plan. In six months, of the 167 who had come here from our village, more than twenty were dead. The Nazis soon found it necessary to replenish the dead in our camp with new slaves. A transport of a hundred Jews from Konin, a nearby town, was delivered to us. Although Konin was only eighty kilometers from Steineck, these arrivals had not known that Steineck existed. At first their fresh look and decent clothes set them apart, but after a few weeks they blended in with the rest.

Winter dropped its first load of snow, but nothing would deter Kommandant Krusche from sending everyone out to work. After New Year's more Jews arrived, this time from Lodz. They told us a horrifying story about a village called Chelmno. The Nazis, they said, had a speedier method to kill Jews. They had vehicles that diverted the engine exhaust into the truck body. Under the guise of resettlement, the people were driven away and killed on the road. The bodies were taken to Chelmno, which boasted the largest crematorium in the area, with a capacity to burn five hundred bodies per day. Because this act was so outrageous and diabolical, Rumkowski, the elder of Lodz, inquired if it was done on higher orders or by local Nazi zealots. The answer from Berlin came that it was official policy and that many such places were soon to follow. Because Chelmno was only about sixty-five kilometers from Dobra, this news rekindled our worse fears about the ghetto and the well-being of my mother, Josek, and Pola.

On one gray raw day, returning from work, I saw an inverted U-shaped structure with large hooks standing in the reporting area. It was unmistakably a gallows. I turned pale. Having failed to have me worked to death, I thought, Krusche was now determined to make good on his threat. He was going to hang me. Once we were dismissed after roll call, I asked Chaim what the gallows meant. It surprised him too, he said, when he saw it being erected. That evening I could not take my mind off dying. When I finally fell asleep, I saw myself, hands tied behind me, being led to the gallows. I tried to run away, but wherever I turned, SS men were in my way, stopping me. Finally the nightmare ended when I woke up choking. This must have awakened my father as well, for he looked frightened. Each time I saw the heinous device, shivers went down my spine.

One time I came upon Moniek, whom I knew from Dobra. Although he was my age, he looked like an old man. His flesh looked bug-eaten, and his veins as if they were filled with water. When he buttoned his shirt, he could barely move his fingers. He was a Mussulman. I took him to the infirmary, where Goldstein asked him if he was sick. No one ever wanted to admit to being sick, fearing the worst. Work was the best recipe for staying alive. Since Moniek had no injury or discernible ailment, Goldstein couldn't let him stay. Those were the rules, he said. Thus, without being sick, Moniek went to work and was later brought back on a stretcher. He died the following day. There was no one to mourn him, no one to say a prayer for his soul. Starvation happened to so many that it soon became our number one killer.

In observing a man's manner of walking and seeing the color of his skin and lips, I could tell the onset of a Mussulman. As I later saw, other labor camps, while more pernicious and more destructive, had better sanitary facilities. Some even offered periodic clothes changes and shoes to inmates, and most had inmate doctors and even small infirmaries.

The winter of 1942 was a bitterly cold one. Except for the spruce and pine, every tree was bare. The roads were covered with snow; streams and lakes lay under layers of ice. At work, the earth had to be chopped before, in lumps, it was loaded onto the wheelbarrows. For the first time we heard about a camp called Auschwitz. In Auschwitz, we heard, the SS put older men, women, and children to death as soon as they were brought in. No normal brain could absorb this, and many of us were not even willing to listen. We insisted that the story couldn't be true.

By the middle of March a rumor spread in camp that a hundred inmates were to be transferred out of Steineck, but no one knew where they would be sent. This should be our opportunity to get out of here, I thought. My father agreed. Chaim, usually well informed about things like these, didn't know more than what was rumored. I asked him, if it should turn out to be true, if he would arrange for Papa and me to be on the list. He wasn't sure what Krusche would say, but remembering well the Kommandant's threat, he promised to try. In a few days it became official. On Saturday one hundred men were to leave Steineck. I just wanted to leave, wherever we went.

Stasia disagreed. "Bronek," she warned me, "as long as you stay here, I will help you."

Witczak, Basiak, and Kmiec were probably the reasons why Krusche had not strung me up on the gallows. The thought of leaving Zosia weighed heavily against my decision as well. I knew that if I were to leave Steineck I would lose her. When we met again, Zosia wore a flowered kerchief tied loosely around her neck. It flapped in the early spring breeze. Her eyes were the smoky color of a wintry sky. We sat on a moss-covered rock. I looked at her and was heartbroken at the thought of leaving her. She meant so much to me. And now it all might come to an end, and I would never see her again.

When she heard of our plans, she turned sad. "Where will you be? How will I find you?" she asked. We talked a long while, assuring ourselves we would be together after this was all over. We hugged and kissed until we had to leave. Then she held my hand as we walked together for the last time.

"Remember, Zosia, if you don't see me on Monday, we were able to leave Steineck. I will never forget you," I said. "I will always love you, Zosia."

"Send me a note to let me know where you are," she pleaded. I promised I would. I left and walked sadly up the hill to the office, knowing that, if we left, part of me would always belong to her.

At day's end I thanked Stasia, Witczak, and the other kind people in the office. "If it doesn't work out "I might be back on Monday," I remarked casually. "But I will always be grateful to you."

We had little to take with us. I went to the first aid room, packed my dental instruments back into my box, said good-bye to Goldstein, and returned to Papa. All night long I lay awake. I feared what Krusche might do if he saw me leaving. Yet I knew that I had to take this chance. I feared that Krusche had not yet given in to Witczak. My future in Steineck was unpredictable.

On Saturday we were awakened a half hour earlier than usual. Chaim told me that Papa's name and mine were on the list. Since it was still dark, there was a good chance that Krusche would not detect me, I thought. As we came to the yard, Krusche, his dog, his whip, and his helpers were there. Papa and I went to the back of the line. I froze at each of Krusche's stares in our direction. I feared that if he spotted me he would make me stay. Then what would happen to Papa? Could he survive without me? When I looked at the inmates in our line, I noticed that nearly all were Mussulmen. Chaim, no doubt, was instructed by Krusche to get rid of them, the least productive. We wondered whether we really were going to another camp. Yet I waited anxiously for the order to march. Finally Chaim shouted, asking for one more roll count. He did this often because he knew it appealed to the Kommandant.

Finally we heard "Forward march!" We were out of Krusche's domain.

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