The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

The Dentist of Auschwitz

Chapter 12

Traumatized, starved, and soaked with human waste, we looked to be the inhuman, useless creatures the Nazis had characterized us as being. It was dark when the train stopped. Dawn came a few minutes later, and light began breaking through the windows. We are not at a station. Why did they stop? we wondered. A few minutes later the wheels began to roll slowly; then they stopped and rolled and stopped again, screeching.

It was light enough to see distant fences. We must be at a camp, and at least at the end of this misery. Perhaps the prophecy of our doom and death was wrong after all? The smoke, with the odor of burning flesh, that we suddenly smelled we passed off as the friction of the train's wheels on the rails. As the locomotive crept forward, we saw strangers on a ridge dressed in striped clothes with matching berets, walking like zombies and staring at our train as though they had been expecting us. We yelled, asking them to tell us where we were. But no words came back, just a sign from one of them: he slid his hand across his throat in a cutting gesture. The others that looked at our caravan twirled their fingers at the sky. We stared, frightened, in disbelief. We knew that it meant crematories. In the quiet that followed, a boy of perhaps sixteen asked what the strange gestures meant. No one answered him. No one wanted to share his grimmest thoughts. It is hard to describe our macabre mood. The meaning of the smoke was now apparent. It was not the train. My father was praying. I no longer thought that God could save us. My trust in him had ended. My genesis without him had taken place long ago, in Steineck.

The train rolled on. We passed more uniformed people. They looked on while SS men held flashlights and other prisoners gave us more strange signals. Some raised their arms up, mimicking Hercules. A constant stream of smoke spewed into the air. The train slowed and stopped.

The doors rolled open and startled us with loud bangs. "Raus! Alle raus! Alles liegen lassen!" (Out! All out! Leave everything!), the SS shouted. The cement platform was crowded with SS men, yelling and waving us impatiently out of the wagon. "Raus!" they yelled, as their dogs growled, showing menacing teeth. The word Auschwitz hung like a bad omen in the air. The impact shocked us. It was a ghastly sound that no one repeated. We knew that that word stood for selections and death. We knew that in Auschwitz Jews were turned to ashes. Their net was closing around us.

People began to pray. "Shma Israel Adonoi Eloheino Adonoi Aikhod. God is one. God is mighty."

"Raus! Raus! Alle raus!" they yelled with guns in hand. After being locked in the wagons for days, we had enormous difficulty in leaving the car while in a panic. Our limbs had molded to the mass of men in the cars and would not easily straighten again. "Leave everything on the platform!" the SS yelled. I only had a coat, besides the rags I wore, and I left it, but I held tightly to my life-saving dental tools. Bedlum erupted as SS men tore into us, whipping us for no reason. A whip swung across my body. "Das auch!" a contemptuous SS man shouted.

"These are a few of my dental instruments," I said, hoping he would allow me to keep them. Without another word he seized the box, snatched it off my shoulder, and flung it to the ground. The treasures that I had carried with me all this time, my fate and that of my father, lay scattered on the cement platform.

More prisoners in their zebra-striped suits gathered, watching us from behind the fence. We were ordered to undress and to leave our clothes on the platform. Carpenters, lawyers, shoemakers, businessmen, students, and professors--we were just plain Jews to our captors. They ordered us into the customary rows of fives. "Rechts schwenk, vorwärts marsch."

The skies were gray and had a strange look of finality. It was a cool morning, and the stiff breeze blowing across our naked bodies chilled us deeply. We pressed together, and I held on firmly to Papa, realizing that if we were separated we would never find one another. Then the dreaded word "Selekcja!" Polish for "selection," went like lightning through our lines and sent a bolt of fear through everyone. We knew the apocalypse was near.

We thought we knew all about Auschwitz's horror, but we were soon to discover how little we actually did know. Each of us had been quietly evaluating his chance of survival. To escape from here, one would have to be Houdini. We had barely taken ten steps forward when our line slowed to a crawl. We now crept forward, stepping on each other's heels. Some wept, and others tried to muster courage to appear strong and look healthy. Papa and I were several rows away from the bunch of SS men who, with flashlights in hand, were scrutinizing the naked men before them. I knew that each step took us closer to our doom and death, as the rails had predicted. A few more minutes and it will all be over, I surmised.

We were still moving and were soon to meet the group of SS men with the flashlights. One Nazi, who appeared to be the highest-ranking SS officer, wore a spiffy black uniform with a doctor's badge--a serpent wound around a sword. He was tall and slim, with a dark complexion. His thick black hair was cut short. He left no uncertainty that he was in charge. The procedure seemed well rehearsed. As his assistants paraded a row of prisoners before him, he made mysterious gestures. Only the guards understood, and they quickly executed his orders. A blink of his eyes, a wave of his hand, a twitch of his finger--each held a clue. Some people were ordered right and others left. It soon became apparent that one line seemed more fit than the other.

Two of the five men in the row ahead of us were ordered to join the weaker line. One of them courageously attempted to persuade his judge to let him go with the others. "Look! I am strong," he said. "I can work. I worked on laying rails for more than two years and did not skip one day." But an SS man shoved him back in his line. A daily supply of people, demand for labor, and the availability of room in the barracks were equally important factors in determining who lived and who died.

Before our turn, a fellow captive whispered, "Lift your heads. Act strong." The judges asked the first question of me. What was my age?

"Twenty-three," I said.


"Dentist," I replied.

They ordered me to the right, to join the healthier-looking group. As I stepped aside, I took my father with me.

"Halt! Nur Du!" (Only you), I heard one shout. I knew that Papa was at their mercy. They asked him his age and occupation.

"Forty-two, farmer," he said.

My father was forty-nine then. I thought it sounded good.

But "Links!" I heard them order. I saw them push him to the left.

"It's my father," I said, begging them to understand.

"Nein, nur Du geh nach rechts. Dein Vater muß nach links gehen." (No, only you to the right. Your father must go to the left.) They had condemned him to death. I tried to beg for their clemency once more. But I watched in horror as they began to select people in the next line. I was as close to tears as I could ever be in camp. They have just orphaned me, I thought.

Suddenly a commotion erupted as one man tried to escape the platform. He was quickly mowed down by gunfire. In that moment of confusion, I grabbed my father and tried to take him with me. He was frozen with fear and did not move. I tugged sharply and whispered, "Papa! Come with me." He followed. If we had been caught, it would have been death for both of us.

I still do not understand why none of them noticed me and stopped us. It all happened purely by chance. In writing about this incident I must add that survival, all else aside, was primarily luck. Sometimes more than luck was needed. Sometimes strange things had to happen, as if one's fate was guided by a mysterious hand.

We stood there, and each minute was an hour long. I felt as if I were standing on hot coals. We could hear praying: "O Lord, have mercy on thy children. We are truly thine and are pure in heart." But it didn't help. In the end, the doctors were all powerful. I held on to my father, amazed at what had happened. Seventy-five of us hopeful people were finally led away. The billows of smoke rose from the chimneys as the sky brightened. Our brothers in the other group were also led away, soon to be silenced.

After walking a hundred meters, we were loaded onto trucks and driven along a double fence, passing three-story brick buildings. We saw groups of people marching. Their clothes were dirty, and they wore striped miners' lamps on their heads. They were on their way to work. I was struck by the paradox: the coal they mined might have been used to move the trains that carried us here. Some looked lifeless, barely dragging their feet. In front of each group walked someone in the same striped clothes wearing a black armband, a Kapo.

This camp did not look like any I had seen before. The outside perimeter was fenced with heavy wire, with barbed wire on top. Along the inside ran what seemed to be an electric line. Perched above in towers were green-uniformed Waffen SS. Their guns pointed into the camp. As we were driven further, we heard an orchestra playing and people singing. "Today Poland. Tomorrow the entire world," they sang in German. Each refrain had a different verse and mentioned a different country. When the trucks stopped, we heard "We're marching on England today, and tomorrow on the entire world!"

A sign at the gate read "Stop, high voltage!" Above the gate another sign read "Auschwitz," and below it, "Arbeit Macht Frei" (Work makes you free). We knew it wasn't meant to be a promise, not even a pledge. The truth was that we were here to work until we died. In front of a small shack a conductor directed thirty musicians. The scene was grotesque. They followed his baton as if they were playing in a symphony orchestra.

Once inside, our truck turned left and stopped in front of one of the huge three-story brick buildings. A smartly dressed SS sergeant took charge of us. "Down," he shouted, as the rest of the SS began to enforce his order. I looked at my father. He was shivering, and his face was blue. We hoped, but we still didn't know what would happen to us.

Suddenly someone signaled to me. I looked and saw an inmate waving from the opposite side of a fence. He was staring at my boots. "You'll have to leave them anyhow. Throw them to me," he shouted. "I'll take care of you with some extra food when you get to the camp. I am a Blockkapo," he added. These were the first words I heard spoken by any prisoner in Auschwitz. It was a Kapo's introduction.

He wore a clean suit, a dark cap, and the Kapo's armband. I did not believe him at first. I thought he was only after my boots. But when the Scharführer ordered us to leave behind anything we still might have with us, I yielded to the inevitable. I removed the few photographs that I still had from one of my boots and threw the boots over the fence to him. In the aftermath I realized that I did not know how to find him. As it turned out, it really didn't matter. We were not allowed to mix with inmates in the main camp anyway.

I looked at my family photographs: my mother, sister, brother, and Aunt Rachel, Uncle Shlomo, and Aunt Sara. Also I looked at the picture of Uncle Izchak, whom everyone said I resembled. There was Uncle Mordechai, Uncle Chaim, cousins Toba, Balcia, Nachme, Josef, Mayer, and Mendel. Finally I looked at my grandfather's picture for the last time. Much later, when I remembered that August day in 1943, it was as if by my leaving those photographs, my relatives pictured there had also died at Auschwitz. We saw groups of inmates with their heads bowed low, and I decided that someday someone should tell the world what I saw. But, I thought, no epic drama could duplicate the sight that was before me. No one would be able to find such emaciated bodies to re-create the scene.

The morning mist remained. More trucks arrived. One group, also from our train, was from Lenzingen, the camp my brother had been in. They claimed to have seen him before the selection on the platform. Papa and I feared for him.

The Scharführer ordered us into the cell block we were facing. As we entered through a long corridor, we had to pass other SS men. They searched us once more, but this time they made us spread our legs and bend over. Further down the corridor, we walked through brackish fluid that smelled of kerosene or naphtha. Soon we had the same mixture showered on our heads and bodies. "Schnell! Schnell!" they urged. We ran like cornered sheep to avoid the German shepherds. Then we were led to the yard once again.

The sun shone. It had burned off the fog. Naked and wet, we were freezing. Scratches and scrapes on our bodies had reddened from the fluid, and these were painful. Next we were ordered into another building that had a sign: "Brause" (shower), which we feared most. The terrible word staring us in the face startled us. We are not safe, I thought. We are in their concealed gas chamber. "Los machen!" they yelled, and we were pushed in the door from all sides. The large metal door locked behind us with a clang. We were in a large hall. We saw the shower heads hanging down. The prisoners who were already there stood praying, perhaps for all of us. We heard another clang, and all became quiet. My father's eyes were fixed on me. He was thinking, like me, that this might be our last moment together. My heart raced. Light rings swirled in front of my eyes. For kilometers and days the train wheels had warned me of doom and death. That promise was about to come true. I closed my eyes and stopped breathing, fearing that the deadly gas would shower down on us at any minute. A passive silence persisted.

Suddenly I felt a trickle of water. I didn't dare to look up, afraid the miracle would stop. When I looked around, I saw that we were all still on our feet--alive. Soon the water flowed steadily, and it did not smell or taste odd. I gulped down a mouthful. Water had never tasted so good or meant as much to me. With a burst of relief, we all felt that a new life had been given to us. It was our only happy moment in Auschwitz. For Papa and me, this was the second miracle of the day.

When the water stopped, an inmate nearby said he had seen my brother in the hall. The man took me by the hand, and we both elbowed our way through the mass of wet bodies until we saw Josek. We looked at each other in disbelief. It was a third miracle! We returned to Papa, who was happy to be reunited with both his sons. Josek looked considerably thinner than he had when I had last seen him. His eyes were sunken, and he slouched. His health was delicate. This was not an asset in any camp. Now that we had found one another, we vowed to stay together no matter what.

As the doors opened, we were ordered into the next room, a large hall that was now a makeshift barbershop. It was full of inmates sitting on benches. The barbers were also inmates, but they wore clean, striped prison uniforms. They had crew cuts. "Sit. Stand. Turn around." Each of the eight barbers ordered inmates about. I overheard one man telling of an episode he had witnessed at the railroad station. He was from Vienna, and he said he saw a man about forty-five years old tell an SS officer that he had been arrested by mistake. "I fought in the First World War for Austria and lost both my legs. I am exempt from any deportation," the man had argued. He showed the officer his Iron Cross and his documents. The SS man, however, ripped them out of his hand and shredded them. Then he pushed the crippled man in front of an oncoming train. Another witness corroborated this story. "We all gasped," the storyteller continued, "as the train crushed him."

My turn came, and the barber began to clip me bald. He shook his head, pondering why so many of us managed to get in alive. "Auschwitz is full. You were lucky to escape the chimney." Inmates used the word chimney as a metaphor for being gassed and cremated. Konzentrationslager, the word for concentration camp, was difficult to pronounce, so they called it KZ. "Only if there is a demand for workers does Dr. Mengele pass Jews into camp," the barber said, adding, "At times they are short of gas."

I told him that most of us were veterans of other camps, having spent as much as two years in labor camps near Poznan, where we worked building railroad tracks. Perhaps that had helped us escape death.

"I doubt it," he said. Then he went on to tell me that we were now in Stammlager, the main camp of Auschwitz. He also said that there were many satellite camps around Auschwitz. "Buna, Trzebinia, Jawizowiec, Janinagrube, and Günthergrube, just to mention a few," he said. "Their organization will amaze you."

He stopped talking, but I wanted to know more. He answered my questions readily. "What is that number you have on your arm?"

"Everyone is known by a number here. You will get one too, and then," he said, "you'll be known only by a number. You'll have to remember it and respond to it when you're called."

I saw his number was tattooed. "Where do we get those numbers tattooed?" I asked.

"You will see where. You'll be tattooed as soon as you leave here." Then he told me that he had been in Auschwitz for a year and a half.

"How long can one survive here?" I wondered aloud. That question puzzled him.

"Auschwitz is a much different place now than it was when I came here," he said. "When we first arrived here, one sign read, 'You can expect to survive three months here, at most six. And if you don't like it, go to the fence and end it now.'" That confirmed my suspicions that deadly electricity did indeed flow in the inner fence of Auschwitz. He continued explaining that obeying was an inmate's unalterable duty. "Remember, never walk in Auschwitz. Run." He then urged me to learn the names of the SS rankings and use them correctly. "When you pass SS men, take your cap off and walk in military steps. Play by those rules regardless how ridiculous they may seem to you." Throughout it all he kept repeating to me how lucky we were. "At times you have to have luck here," he said. "Another reason that many of you passed the selection was because there were no women, children, or elderly among you." I knew he had survived eighteen months in Auschwitz, and that left me with a bit of hope. His final comments to me were "No matter how sick you are, never go to the infirmary. Working is the best recipe for not dying."

I then knew a lot more about Auschwitz and its special lingo. KZ meant concentration camp. KB (Krankenbau) was the infirmary. Kanada referred to the inmate groups that were gathering everything the arrivals were forced to leave on the platforms. The Kapos were inmate foremen. Bunker was a penal place. Sonderkommandos were inmates assigned to special work details. The barber, though, had dropped words that seemed strange: horse, rack, and others whose meanings I could not fully understand.

Naked and shaved from tip to toe, we followed one another into the next barracks. Pairs of clogs, jackets, and pants were thrown at us, regardless of the size or fit. "If these don't fit you, swap with others," the inmates behind the counters told us. The clothing reeked of the very same brew that we had been sprayed with earlier. We each received gray-striped underwear and a striped beret. The jackets were either too large or too small, and most of the pants pulled up to the chin. Papa, who had never been without a thread and needle, was helpless, for the button that was supposed to hold up his pants was missing. Josek's trousers didn't stay on his waist either. Robbing us of our names was a way to complete our dehumanization. Our names became numbers. In time we knew why. Numbers had no faces. They were much easier to deal with.

When the numbering process began, Josek, Papa, and I followed one another and received consecutive numbers. We thought that this would lessen the chance of our being separated. A prisoner with a tool similar to a fountain pen began to inject a black dye into my lower left arm. At first it wasn't painful, but as he progressed, it hurt. When I pulled my arm away, I saw a few drops of blood over the numbers he had just tattooed. He looked at me, and I knew he had to finish. Afterward we received cloth patches with our numbers and were told to sew them onto our jackets and pants. I became number 141129, my father number 141130, and Josek number 141131. The red triangle on the patch denoted a political crime. Three yellow corners were added to all patches of Jewish inmates. In time we learned even to distinguish what the alleged crime had been. Communists and former fighters of the Spanish Civil War who fought for a republic and against General Franco had a triangle pointing down, while the remaining political inmates had triangles pointing up. Green triangles denoted criminals, pink represented homosexuals, and purple stood for Seventh Day Adventists and Jehovah's Witnesses. Brown designated the gypsies. Those alleged to be escapees wore large black circles on their backs. Because a Jew was simply shot or hanged when caught escaping, there were no Jews among this last group. The first letter of one's country name in German--for example, D for Deutschland, F for Frankreich, and P for Polen--appeared in the center of the patch.

The Kapos were the ones we learned to fear first. Some were in charge of the blocks in camp. Others went with us to work and were in charge of us there. Nearly all were non-Jews, and most were German. They came from a wide variety of backgrounds: they were con men, desperados, convicted murderers, and petty criminals. Among them were also former soldiers from the International Legion. Though some of them had first been at odds with Hitler, they changed their allegiance when given the opportunity to leave the jails and become Kapos in concentration camps. All showed a certain contempt for newcomers and acted as if all Jews were their enemies. Although they faced the same life that we did, they seemed to us arrogant and harshly indifferent.

It was amazing how the Nazis had singled us out from the rest of the inmates. If there had ever been a thread of harmony between Jews and non-Jews in the camps, we did not see it in Auschwitz. In spite of our common plight, the others didn't associate with us. They did not have to fear selections. The gas chambers were purely for Jews and gypsies.

In assembling this time, we had to follow our numbers in consecutive order. "Los! Los!" the guards herded us through Auschwitz. We saw a group of inmates carrying stones in one direction and another doing the same going the opposite way. They looked toward us, but I was not sure that they could see us. Finally we came to the Quarantine Block. We had not eaten in two days and thought that having passed Auschwitz's symbolic baptism, our fellow inmates would find enough compassion for us to let us into the building. But the Kapo and three of his assistants marched us to the side of the building. There they chilled us with an unfriendly reception.

"Where were you all this time?" the Kapo growled. He sounded as if he was accusing us of not having come to Auschwitz sooner. Next the clerk checked to see if we were all there. He was tall, about two meters, skinny and bowlegged. He wore a red triangle with a capital P, which made him a political prisoner from Poland. His tattooed number was a little over 100000. One of his ears curled upward, and the other looked as if it was folded back. Of the three assistants to the Kapo in that block, he turned out to be the friendliest and the most decent.

In a hoarse, quivering voice, he encouraged us to be hopeful. "You will probably be sent to an Aussenlager [subcamp], of which there are thirty-nine here in a forty-kilometer radius." After two weeks, barring any problems, he said, we could expect to be sent out to work.

The Kapo, however, was different. When he began to speak, he demonstrated how, in Auschwitz, men became more aggressive than animals. He looked well-nourished. He laid down the rules. "Anyone who leaves this block will receive ten lashes. If anyone brings food in the barracks, ten lashes. If you leave your bunk unmade, ten lashes. Missing at a roll call, ten lashes. Stealing, twenty lashes." By the end of his tirade, we were numb with rules.

As noon neared, it was time to fetch food, and he allowed us to go into the rooms. Our pants were still loose. If we couldn't find something to keep them up, we knew we would get scolded by the Kapo. Luckily Josek had found a bit of string. Once we were in the barracks we quickly secured three adjacent bunks. For the first time since we became camp inmates, we were in a vermin-free block.

In both Steineck and Gutenbrunn we got our rations regularly. Here, however, even though we received soup morning and night, we got bread sporadically. Since no one could venture beyond the block, stealing was out of the question. Even Mendele, who had nearly always found ways to circumvent the system, had trouble. When the block orderly arrived with vats of soup, we each received two ladles of boiled water with bits of potatoes and an overcooked turnip in it. We had no spoons and had to drink from the bowl.

The roll call could last hours. One Sunday, just before noon, I heard my name being called. I didn't recognize who it was. I wondered how anyone would know my name. When I came to the door, I saw a Kapo. I didn't know why he was looking for me. After confirming that I was Bronek Jakubowicz and from Gutenbrunn, he said there was a girl outside who had asked him if he knew a Bronek Jakubowicz. After he described her briefly, I knew it could only be Zosia.

He said he had advised her to leave, after promising her that he would find me. I was curious to know how the Kapo had found me. "She told me when and from where you came, and I knew, if you were alive, you could only be here in the Quarantine Block," he said. He considered his mission completed and left. Our class distinction was such that it would have been too demeaning for him to stay and socialize with an ordinary inmate who had just come to Auschwitz. How Zosia knew where we had been sent I have never learned. Considering the extraordinarily tight security at Auschwitz, which would have discouraged her from coming back, she must have realized that she could not have met me even if she did return. What came back were my memories of our days together at Steineck and Gutenbrunn.

The Auschwitz veterans looked upon us as greenhorns. They answered all of our questions with questions of their own. When I asked a Kapo's aide where I could wash some of my clothes, he answered, "Where do you think you are, in a sanitorium?"

More people kept coming. We saw tattooed numbers upward of 150000. That meant that almost ten thousand people had been brought here since we had come. According to the normal pattern, only 25 percent actually passed into the camp. That meant that in the two weeks since we arrived, more than forty thousand people had been transported to Auschwitz. I wondered about the women's camp and the fate of Balcia and all the others.

One day a few civilian Germans, accompanied by SS men, came and looked us over. Our good-worker status, however, was apparently not known to them, and our isolation continued. We heard of Allied forces landing somewhere in Europe. One day late in the afternoon, twelve inmates went past our barracks. Usually inmates inside the camp were escorted by the Kapos, but these men were led by the SS. Their faces exuded fear. One of our room orderlies said that they were being taken to the Strafbunker (penalty bunker). "Few survive a long stay there," he said. "And if they do, they're physically and mentally broken for life." The Strafbunker had no light or toilet. It was barely big enough for one person to stand up in. "They would have been better off to have gone to the electric fence," the orderly said.

Another day we heard that there was no further need for inmate workers and we weren't to go anywhere. This was the worst news we could have been told. Being unneeded meant being dispensable. Passing Dr. Mengele's selection was just a temporary reprieve, we thought. We already knew that to remain alive we had to keep working. Being idle beyond a certain point was a threat to our lives. I was no longer optimistic that we would ever leave Auschwitz alive. After the years of living on the edge of existence, we were resigned to whatever fate had in store for us, and we didn't look at our lives in any long-term way.

One day the Kapo kept us outside in the cold rain for more than an hour. When we finally got back into the block, we were dripping wet. We hung our clothes around the room to dry. When the Kapo noticed, he asked us who had had that idea. Since we all did it simultaneously, no one admitted guilt. Then he ordered us to go outside naked and circle the block. As we passed by him standing at the door, he swung his whip at us. Mendele was hit badly, but even though some lashes on his back drew blood, he didn't whimper. I thought this teenager's heart was made of stone. Looking around and seeing the rain dripping off of us, I thought of cattle in a pasture. Here we were treated alike, driven, herded, and even branded like cattle. Later one of the prisoners, Moishe Chernicki, came down with a fever and was taken to the infirmary. No one ever saw or heard from him again.

We had been in this isolation for more than two weeks. The draconian rations barely kept us alive. When the sun didn't shine, the camp was draped in the black of the rising smoke. There had not been a shortage of courage before, but now we were at our lowest point ever. Reality seemed twisted and out of shape. At times we stared into space. Some wandered around the barracks in loneliness. Although we had passed Dr. Mengele's selection, we were destined to flunk life anyway. Suicides, though, were rarely heard of here. Only a few Jewish inmates succumbed in this way. Perhaps our generation's experiences had endowed us with extra ability to endure. The undaunted believers still prayed every day. It amazed me how they still remembered word-for-word the various prayers of shaharith, minhah, and maarib--the morning, afternoon, and evening liturgies.

Then a number of civilians came to the block. They were accompanied by Hauptsturmführer Rudolf Höss, the Kommandant of Auschwitz. The consensus of our block supervisors indicated that they were from I.G. Farben, a large German pharmaceutical company that already employed prisoners in the nearby Buna camp. At Buna, the I.G. Farben Company was making synthetic rubber. There, we were told, the inmate death rate was very high, and they had a continuous need for replacement workers. We believed that it could only be better than our present situation. We just wanted to get out of here.

Finally we got orders that we would leave the camp. A little after five the next morning, we were each given leather shoes with wooden soles to replace our clogs. After roll call we were given a generous portion of bread and were lined up. There were eight hundred of us who would be workers and twenty-five other prisoners, including Richard Grimm, who would take charge of us. We did not know where we were going. Except for Grimm, all the others had low prisoner numbers. The lowest I recall seeing was on Klaus Koch, who became our cook. Coincidentally, an SS man by the same name turned out to be his boss. Most of the workers wore green triangles, the color designated for criminals, but there were also political prisoners and even one homosexual bearing a pink triangle patch.

As we left, Josek and I walked on either side of our father. I looked up and saw the paradoxical Auschwitz sign, "Work makes you free." By leaving Auschwitz, I felt that we had a new lease on life. A large group of people were being led into the camp. They were gypsies, and I had to think of the contradiction, that they, people who loved so much their free spirit, were also chained in Auschwitz. I remembered when I was just a boy how I loved to listen to the gypsies' music. They would make the violin cry and laugh at the same time. While still in grammar school I learned to play the mandolin and had a unique experience with a gypsy girl. She was about twelve, my age, and very beautiful. When she came to the back of our house, where I played my mandolin, she stopped and listened for a while. Then she persuaded me to come with her to their camp, which was not far from our house. At first I felt fearful, because I had been warned that they abducted dark-haired children. But I went with her anyway and later visited her a few more times. In time I came to appreciate our differences. I liked the gypsies' communal, nomadic, exciting lifestyle. By the time they moved away, the gypsy girl and I were in love. About three weeks later she returned and insisted on living with us. It was a dilemma for my parents. Finally, after finding out where her tribe was, Papa bought a railroad ticket for her and sent her back to them.

We continued marching, seventy Croats and twenty German Waffen SS with us. They were mostly Rottenführer (privates) and Unterscharführer (corporals). Ahead of us walked a statuesque and fearless-looking SS man. He was Hauptscharführer Otto Moll, our future Kommandant. Rumor had it that Moll had played an important role in Auschwitz, where in less than six months he had risen from the rank of sergeant to Hauptscharführer and Kommandant. This meteoric ascension was due to his skill in killing. He had pioneered the dropping of canisters of the poison gas Zyklon B into the phony showers, which he accompanied with his favorite saying, "Laß sie fressen" (Let them eat).

It was the late summer of 1943, and to have escaped the Quarantine Block at Auschwitz alive was a metaphor for freedom. Our fate, we thought, had changed. We had been close to being pushed off the cliff, and now we had a new lease on life. I felt resentful as we passed people who were still allowed a near-normal life, and wished I was not born a Jew. I struggled in my wooden-soled shoes as we walked. It was noon, the sun was high, and we had just passed by a little town called Ldziny. We were ordered off the road and told to sit on the ground. There was an eerie sensation. The grass felt scorched, dead, as if just after a famine. Anyone lucky to have bread left finished it, and soon we continued our trek to the north, coming by another camp, Günthergrube. A few kilometers farther on, we came to the village of Piast. Not too far from there, visible from the road, was another camp with a strange name, Janina. In Polish this was a popular girl's name. One kilometer farther, across the road, were two more camps. One was Ostland, which housed Polish and Russian women. The second camp was Lager Nord, which had Russian war prisoners. Next we came to a place called Wesola, which means "happy" in Polish. This seemed to be a camp territory. Five kilometers farther was yet another camp. Most prisoners here worked for I.G. Farben. Finally we came to Fürstengrube, or "Noble Mine." This was to be our new home. We were only about sixteen kilometers from Auschwitz I.

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