The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

The Dentist of Auschwitz

Chapter 14
The Dentist of Auschwitz

I usually waited until just before curfew before going to wash up. Then I didn't have to jockey to find a spout. One evening as I undressed, Richard Grimm came in, purely by chance. In Gutenbrunn we had been close: I was the dentist, and he had seen me every day. But it was different here. I was just an ordinary mine worker, and he was the Lagerältester.

When I turned around to face him, he looked at me in a strange way. "I meant to find you," he said. "The Hauptscharführer wants to install a dental station here." He continued, worried, "Look at you. You look like a Mussulman. You are in no shape to be a dentist."

I knew he was right. By then there were many dentists in Fürstengrube who were better trained than I. "Richard," I pleaded with him as he kept scrutinizing me, "if he gives me a chance, I assure you I can do it." He made no promises, but after giving me a long and hopeful look, he said he would try.

The December cold was most apparent in the mornings during roll call. One day, just as the tally of our group was completed and the number of the sick was read to Moll, Grimm yelled, "Gutenbrunn dentist! Report to the Hauptscharführer immediately!"

My heart began pounding. Could it be? I asked myself as I ran toward them with a vigor I did not know I still possessed. I stopped two meters in front of them as I was required to do, and then I staggered and almost fell. "Herr Hauptscharführer, Häftling 141129 meldet sich gehorsamst zu ihrem Befehl." (Lieutenant, prisoner 141129 obediently reports to your order.)

I was frightened. It was the first time I had seen Moll up close. He sized me up with his one cold, critical eye. Moll never addressed inmates in the first person. "Bleiben Sie stehen," he said. I stepped to one side of him, uncomfortable, with all the inmates staring at me. It took twenty minutes for the Kommandos to leave. Then Richard Grimm spoke. "This man was our dentist in Gutenbrunn, as I had mentioned to you, Herr Hauptscharführer." I followed what he said very closely, and I observed Moll's reaction, for in his response lay my hopes.

"Let me see your hands," the Kommandant said. I stretched out my arms, palms up. "My God! How can you be a dentist with these lacerated hands? Look, Grimm! Let him stay in camp until his hands heal," Moll said. I stared in disbelief as Moll's one eye stared back at me. I would not forget the human, almost tender way in which he spoke. Just when I was nearly ready to give up, this Nazi came to my rescue.

Grimm walked Moll to the gate, and when he returned, he said that Moll had ordered a dental station built in Block 7, the office barracks near the camp entrance. He wanted me to let him know when it was ready. Moll had also ordered that extra rations be given to me. This had far-reaching consequences for my father and brother. From that day on, I could share my extras with them. I began to recover quickly, as did my hands.

Any idle inmate in camp drew the Kapos' attention and their ire. In spite of what the Kommandant had ordered, they had little tolerance for an inmate not at work. I remembered the camp code: Working is the best recipe for not dying. I was unwilling to jeopardize my chances, so I volunteered to work in the first aid room, as I had done in Gutenbrunn. The KB had sixty beds.

The first time I met Oberkapo Josef Hermann was when he started building the dental station. He also built a workbench for me and seats in the waiting room. The Sanitätsdienstgefreiter, called SDG, was a low-ranked Waffen SS man with minimal first aid training. He supervised the KB and the dental station. His rank was Unterscharführer, and his name was Adolf Voigt. He was ambivalent about his duties. He came to the first aid room, looked around, and left.

Even the worst, most menial job in camp could make the difference between life and death. Because of that, many prisoners were anxious to take any camp job, even if it meant helping the Nazis. Fortunately the camp dentist did not have the same dilemma.

Josef Hermann had the dental station ready in a few days. I was given an elite camp suit, a sweater, and a pair of real leather shoes, which distinguished me from the Kommando inmates. I also continued to receive kitchen privileges. I stopped being the dumb inmate and no longer needed to fear the Kapos or the foremen. Even Kapo Puka showed me new respect. Although the station was ready, I had no equipment. Moll wasn't someone I dared to ask for equipment. I asked Grimm, and he told me that it would be coming the next day. About two thirty in the afternoon Moll rode into camp on his motorcycle with an ambulance following. He ordered the driver, an SS man, to help me unload the truck. I could not believe what I saw. Not only did they bring the most up-to-date dental equipment, instruments, and supplies, but also a complete dental laboratory.

When my brother returned from the mine, he came to help me set up an electric adjustable chair, complete with drill and overhead light. Some of the instruments looked brand-new. Among the supplies were a few ampoules of novocaine, and even textbooks and dental manuals and a patient appointment book with the name Dr. Wadzimiez Kamienski. Immediately I plunged into reading the manuals. As Grimm later told me, Moll had gone to nearby Sosnowiec and confiscated the equipment from a Polish dentist.

The next day during the roll call, Grimm announced the new dental station. "But you can't skip work to see the dentist," he said.

My function was only to extract teeth. Since I did not have enough novocaine, I economized, using one two-cc ampoule for two or more extractions. I also filled the cavities with silicone or phosphate cement. The inmates' main problem was bleeding gums, a result of vitamin deficiency and the complete absence of toothbrushes and dentifrice. Dabbing the gums with iodine only offered temporary relief.

Adjoining the dental station was the camp office, where Willy Engel worked. To the other side was a penal room, separated from the dental station by a thin plywood wall. I could hear shrieks when inmates were brutalized. A few days later Willy said a hanging was about to happen in Fürstengrube. I had not expected to witness any more hangings. Though hanging wasn't new to me, seeing it happen never ceased to be a numbing experience. I knew that the SS had many other ways to kill us in Auschwitz.

It was the end of December 1943, and it had become clear that the Nazis were losing the war. We expected a change in their treatment of us. One day, as the men on the day shift began to return, instead of being freed to go about their business, they were marched to the part of the camp where the gallows stood. Then a loud horn ordered all the rest of us to come out. Soon several inmates were brought into the yard. They looked baffled, almost indifferent. "Inmate [number] is guilty of sabotage to the Third Reich and is to die on the gallows," the Gestapo announced. No specific act of sabotage was voiced, for these were the verdicts routinely read before all executions. Killing people for undefined charges seemed to be the most cynical of all their heinous acts.

As the chairs were pulled from under the condemned, the men tried to gasp for air before they choked. Their tongues hung out to the side of their faces. Their eyes were open but not focused. It was the first hanging in Fürstengrube, but we feared that more would come. Following orders, the inmates began to circle the gallows. Dr. Lubicz, Dr. Seidel, Felix, one of the first aid helpers, and I were ordered to remove the bodies and take them to the Leichenzimmer (morgue). The faces were swollen, but the bodies were still warm. We had to fight feelings of revulsion as we carried them in a funerallike procession. That night I thought I heard their voices. Had they come back to life?

Since the dental station was near the camp entrance, when SDG Voigt came through the gate, he inspected it first. "Herr Unterscharführer, Häftling 141129 obediently reports to your orders" was how he was expected to be greeted. "Weiter machen," he usually replied. If Voigt still believed in the thousand-year Reich, he didn't seem to show it. He was here, playing his part, I thought, because he preferred this to fighting. He didn't seem to like the formality. It was my duty, however, to act out my part also. He allowed me to set up a bunk in the laboratory and sleep there. I no longer had to line up and attend the daily roll calls.

But gradually Voigt's indifference became obvious to Moll, and he was replaced by Unterscharführer Günther Hinze. While Voigt took his assignment lightly, Hinze was driven by an uncommon zeal for the job. He was a psychopath and a appalling Jew-hater. Hinze was about twenty-three years old. He had reddish straight hair and was severely cross-eyed. A large scar was visible from his hairline down to his left temple. He had an arrogance that I immediately perceived.

When he came into the dental station for the first time, he eyed me coldly. This distorted his face even more. As I continued my laboratory work, he tilted his head and began to criticize everything I was doing. When I said something, he picked my words apart and contradicted me. When he finally left, I was worried. Willy Engel told me that Hinze had been severely wounded in the head on the eastern front. After recovering from surgery, he was allocated a new function, as the SDG at Fürstengrube. The next day Hinze came to inspect the dental station. Since I knew he would pick on me for neatness, I had everything in place. After he opened the door, he cocked his head and looked at me. Then he drew his white glove across the top of the door frame, looked at it, and said, "It's filthy." It was clear to me that he had just found an excuse to punish me. He ordered me to step onto a chair with my heels over the edge. He then made me do deep knee bends up and down while counting. Occasionally he made me stop at a most painful point, during which he maligned and slandered everything Jewish.

"You know why the Jews are punished?" he asked. "Because they are the cause of the war." I did not say anything. There was no point in my disputing him. I let him throw his trash, hoping that eventually it would end. After half an hour, as he saw that I was getting exhausted, he left. He was my worst nightmare. When I got up in the morning, I knew what to expect. Sometimes I wished he would come and just get it over with. This became such a daily routine that I thought of hiding from him. One day after I had already gone through one of those sessions in the morning, Hinze returned in the afternoon and made me do it all over. He sat near me, clapping rhythmically. After a while I was so exhausted that I only heard his thudding voice ordering me: "Up, down." When I slowed down and said that I couldn't do any more, he countered: "You have it too good here. I can't stand the smell of a Jew." Then he left. I slumped in the chair, depleted of all my strength.

One day, late in the afternoon, an ambulance arrived, and an SS officer came to the station. I had no idea who he was. "Are you the dentist?" he asked.

"Yes, Herr Hauptscharführer," I answered.

He looked around the room first, without a comment. I thought he approved of what he saw. "I am Dr. König. I will be coming here to see the Mannschaft [team]," he said pompously. Then he ordered me to prepare weekly reports. He said that he had informed the SS that he would be coming to Fürstengrube on Tuesdays, between four and six. Before he left, he asked me if anything was needed in the station. "Vitamin C and novocaine in any form, Herr Hauptscharführer," I answered him.

On weekdays, when most inmates were out at work, I worked in the KB. On one such day, a chauffeur-driven black Mercedes drove up, and four high-ranking SS officers came in. One of them looked familiar. Their emblems showed they were all medical people. Dr. Lubicz reported the usual: the number of sick in the KB and "all is well." Commenting to one another, they next passed Dr. Seidel, Felix, Boris, and me, as we all stood at attention. After they entered the sick ward and saw the hospitalized prisoners, one asked Dr. Lubicz what was wrong with them. At one point I heard Dr. Lubicz address one man as Dr. Mengele. In that instant I remembered having seen him on the unforgettable morning of our selection. His cool manner and his nonchalant air were unmistakable. Dr. Lubicz told me he knew him from the main camp, where he had once worked. Dr. Mengele, however, acted as if he had never seen him before. Lubicz also knew two of the other three: Dr. Fischer and Dr. Schwartz. As they passed by the bedridden inmates, Mengele asked Lubicz why each was there. Lubicz gave him a brief description of each patient and his illness and also gave an opinion on how soon the inmate could return to work. Mengele, however, made his own conclusions and ordered that the numbers of inmates he chose be recorded. In the end, of the sixty that were in the hospital at the time, twenty-two were on the list. These would be picked up and taken to Auschwitz II, Birkenau. Lubicz tried to save some of them, but his plea did not matter. The verdict for all those on the list was final. Those selected knew what awaited them. One of them said, "I know where I am going," and he twirled his finger up in the air. On the following day they were taken to a certain death. This was the beginning of selections in the camp. From then on, the doctors came to Fürstengrube every week. Mengele often had other doctors with him, most often Fischer, who later came on his own and eventually replaced Mengele. They came only to destroy lives. A German doctor's Hippocratic oath was hypocrisy.

In the meantime, the Allies were increasingly victorious. After the Soviets threw the Germans out of Russia, the British and American troops chased them out of North Africa. Our minds latched on to any news that would spell hope. We had survived this long, and we hoped that we were now living through the final darkness before the dawn. The news reports forecast a quick end to the war. But that hardly made a difference. The Germans still thought they were invincible and continued their cruelties against us. One day an inmate with a bullet wound was brought into camp on a stretcher. I watched as Max Schmidt, an Unterscharführer, bent over him and said, "Es ist vorbei" (He is gone). With this, he shot him twice in the head. He then ordered him taken to the corpse room. Another inmate told me later that when the prisoner had stepped out of line, a guard pulled the trigger that put a bullet into his chest. It may well have been true that there wasn't much anyone could do for the wounded man, but at least Schmidt should have had him brought to the KB to see if a doctor could help him. This was the first time that I saw the usually mild-mannered Schmidt kill someone. It demonstrated to me how little a Jewish life meant to any of them. Max Schmidt was not the usual SS man. He just did not fit the Nazi mold. I thought that he could not take Hitler's rubbish seriously. But evil can have many faces.

Another day Dr. König took an impression to replace the bridge of an SS man. Then he asked me if I had enough dental gold to make a new one. That surprised me. How would I have dental gold? I wondered. I said no.

"Don't you take out the gold teeth from the dead inmates?" he asked. "If you are not doing that, plenty of gold is going to waste."

I looked at him in disbelief. "Oh! Herr Haupscharführer," I answered, stunned.

"Why don't you?" he said to me, annoyed.

"I didn't know. No one had ordered me," I said in my defense.

"Be sure that from now on you remove all the gold before they are taken to the Stammlager."

I felt revulsion. I did not think that anyone could stoop that low. Killing people was horrible enough, but tearing out teeth of the dead moved me to disgust. I did not think that I could do it. But it was inevitable. I had no choice. "Jawohl, Herr Hauptscharführer," I said, sickened and scared.

As appalled as I was at having to do it, as repulsive as the thought was, I knew that since I was the only dentist in Fürstengrube, I had to do it. It was by far the hardest thing I had to do in any camp. I often asked myself what would have befallen me if I had not complied with this order. I have never stopped wrestling with that question. When I approached the corpse room for the first time I tried to rationalize that what I was about to do was meaningless to the dead. But it never was to me.

Repugnance preceded each of my trips to the morgue. I never lost that feeling when I went to that small room--two and a half by three meters. When I opened the door, the smell of death greeted me. I shivered. Atrophied bodies lay in a mass on the cement floor. They were grotesquely misshapen, with surprise on their faces, as if they did not know why they had to die. I heard the voices of broken hearts and crushed souls. Some were still clothed. I tried to force myself to believe that they were only bodies and never were human. But as hard as I tried, and as much as I pretended not to care, I could not keep myself from trembling. So many emotions ran through me. I was sickened and unable to begin the task I had come to do. I walked out and went around the building several times. When I returned, I forced myself to approach a middle-aged man's body. His half-open eyes stared up at me, as if to accuse me of the crime I was about to commit. As I tried to pry open his mouth, I felt his ice-cold skin. When I finally forced it open, his jawbones cracked, and that frightened me. Following each turn of the mouth opener was a screeching sound. I imagined this was his way of saying "Don't!" to me. I felt as if the dead would rise up to stop me. Each piece of gold I extracted made me think how shocked they must be. Sometimes I had to pretend, in talking to myself, that what I was doing was normal. The tools I used for this grim task I kept in a red box. Why I painted the box red I didn't know. Most inmates who saw me walking to the morgue with it knew what I was doing and didn't consider it unusual. My father and my brother also knew what I was doing, though I never told them. Now I had enough gold for the SS men's bridges and caps. What I didn't use Dr. König took back with him to the main camp.

Suddenly doctors were being sent to the front, and Dr. König told me that he was making his last visit to Fürstengrube. He ordered me to care for the SS men's dental needs, an ironic request considering that Jewish dentists were not allowed to treat Germans outside the camps. The guards who came to me for treatment modified their behavior and often brought me bread, sausages, and cigarettes, while cautioning me not to tell anyone. Of course I did not ask them for anything. Nevertheless their offerings went a long way toward helping me, my father, my brother, and a number of other inmates.

A few weeks after Dr. König left, another dentist came to oversee the dental station. Dr. Schatz was in his midforties, mild-mannered, friendly, and slightly hunched over. When I recited the camp's required litany, he said that I need not say it for him. Nor did he object to my continuing to treat the guards. But one time he came in very upset. He threw his hat on the chair disgustedly and walked through the dental station, his hand clutched behind his back. "Do you know what they made me do?" he said, looking straight at me, disturbed.

My place was not to reply, but since he looked at me and waited, I said, more out of politeness than curiosity, "What, Herr Hauptscharführer?"

He held out the keys to his ambulance and said, "Go and look at the instrument panel. Then you will see what I mean." His vehicle was parked just a couple of steps from the door. I took his keys and went outside. I opened the driver's door and looked at the instrument panel, which had the usual levers: choke, lights, wipers, heater, and so on. Then I noticed a white lever below with the word Gas on it. Just below that was an inscription: "Achtung, nur im Betrieb gebrauchen" (Caution, use only when in motion). I knew then what it meant.

A shock went through me. I closed my eyes and stepped back. The souls of my mother and my sister were there. Though I knew that these outrageous vehicles existed, seeing one that looked so innocent evoked a new and intolerable pain. It was evidence of the most inhuman and unusual of crimes. It inflicted new and deep wounds. I stood transfixed a while until I regained my composure. The shock of this incident may be at the heart of this book.

I tried to conceal my outrage when I returned. I thought it would be best not to say that I understood what he meant. Although I thought his disgust was real, I could not allow myself to agree with him openly. "Herr Hauptscharführer, I don't know what you meant," I said.

"Did you notice the sign under a handle that says 'Gas: Use only when in motion'?"

I said that I had but claimed I did not understand. I wanted him to tell me. "I saw that lever, Herr Hauptscharführer, but I thought it was a hand accelerator."

"Don't you know what they are doing to you people?" And without waiting for an answer, he became specific. "By pulling this lever, we kill you people! With this lever the driver can divert the exhaust flow to the passenger section of the vehicle. The carbon monoxide then kills everyone in it. That is what we doctors are ordered to do." I looked at his disturbed face. It showed anger and disgust as he poured out his pent-up emotions. He then proceeded to tell me that a lot of our people had already been victims in that very vehicle.

At first I did not reply. I watched him shake his head in disgust. This encouraged me to tell him about the order of one of his predecessors: to pull the gold teeth from the dead inmates. I hoped he would tell me to stop. Instead of doing so, he replied, "You should see the gold and silver that Kanada gathers every day in Birkenau. There as many as ten inmates are pulling gold teeth from the dead at the gas chamber."

Hearing an SS doctor being that explicit about their crimes came as a great surprise to me. As he continued blasting the Führer, I still pretended to have no opinion about it, although I had lots of questions for him. What puzzled me was why a decent human being like he seemed to be would submit to the Nazis. "Dr. Schatz, was it right to see human beings trampled, just because they are different? Some, no doubt, were your friends and neighbors. Was it OK, Dr. Schatz, to see people disinherited, so that yours would benefit? Did you approve of all this while you were winning the war? You must have known that you were placing your trust in an unscrupulous man. Did you condone Hitler's ideas at first? Did you not think that eventually there would be a price to pay?"

Although his confessions were frank and he had renounced the Führer, he still bore the disgrace of being an SS man. I liked what he said and looked forward to his weekly stops. From that day on he acted as if we were equal. I often thought that people like Dr. Schatz would bring the Nazi regime to its knees. As we know now, that did not happen. Hitler was not defeated from within. In spite of what Hitler had done, the German people continued to approve of him even when he was not victorious.

I was tempted to tell Dr. Schatz how SDG Hinze tortured me, but I knew he could not help. One day Schatz instructed me not to make dental appointments for him with the SS men. "I don't want to see them," he said as he left. From then on he came only occasionally to Fürstengrube.

One day Hauptscharführer Moll came into the station and asked me when Schatz was expected back. I told him Schatz stopped by only occasionally and that I had been caring for the dental needs of the guards. I feared his reaction, but he surprised me by saying that he might visit me someday. "I may need you to look at my teeth." He too didn't object to being treated by a Jewish prisoner. In the next few days Moll passed by the dental station several times. He must have had second thoughts. One afternoon, though, I heard his boots behind me, and there he stood. An inmate in the chair jumped up and slid past him, out the door.

"Herr Hauptscharführer, inmate 141129 reports obediently to your orders," I said.

"Will you take a look at my teeth, dentist? I think I have a cavity in one of them," he replied.

"Please sit in the chair, Herr Hauptscharführer," I said, pointing to it.

He unbuckled his belt, took off his hat, and laid both on the stool. The human skull and crossbones on his SS badge stared at me. Then, when I moved to the side where his glass eye was, he reached for his revolver and pointed it at my chest. "Don't try anything stupid, dentist," he said, half jokingly. My heart pounded. Knowing Moll's unpredictable temper, I was very uncomfortable.

"Herr Hauptscharführer," I said as I brushed his pistol aside, "you don't need to be concerned. The pistol is only in our way." He smiled awkwardly and put it back in the holster. I saw considerable decay on the lingual side of his upper right molar. The cavity was not very deep, though. I removed the diseased dentine, then cleaned and closed up the space with a phosphate cement. By then his mood had changed, and he was relaxed. That day I discovered the other Otto Moll. Unfortunately, this one made rather rare appearances.

"Dentist, I have heard that your father and brother are also here?" Moll asked.

"Yes, Herr Hauptscharführer."

"Why didn't you tell me that? Where do they work?"

"My father works at construction, with Kapo Hermann, and my brother is working in the coal mine," I said. "Herr Hauptscharführer," I added, "many fathers and sons are here. I didn't know that this mattered."

Then he asked me how old my father was.

"Forty-nine, Herr Hauptscharführer."

"Isn't construction work too hard for your father? Wouldn't he be better off doing something in the camp? Where would you like to see him working?"

"Home, where we all belong," was the reply that flashed instantly through my mind, but of course I didn't say that to him. He surprised me to no end. I had not expected to hear this from the wicked Otto Moll. I looked him in the eye. Was this a genuine offer? It sounded like compensation for my service. I paused and thought about which job would be best for Papa. Then it occurred to me: barracks orderly. "My father would make a good Stubendienst, Herr Lagerführer," I said enthusiastically.

"Good. Then it's settled. Tell Grimm to give your father a job as a Stubendienst. And your brother," he said, "can work in the KB." With that he buckled his belt, took his hat, and left.

In the past two months I had often thought of finding a way to ease my father's load. But here, asking for help had usually brought the opposite result. It was taken as an attempt to dodge work. I told Grimm about my conversation with Moll. Papa was assigned to Kapo Nathan Green's block, where the three of us had first slept, and my brother went to work in the KB. Dr. Lubicz, who always needed more help in the KB, appreciated my brother's work. Josek stayed there until we were evacuated from Fürstengrube in January 1945.

By the end of 1943 more inmates were brought to Fürstengrube, from Holland, Belgium, Morocco, and Norway. Those who spoke, or at least understood, German or Yiddish were able to follow the Kapos' orders in German. A Dutch boy, only fourteen years old, named Kopelmann, told me that he and his family were arrested because a Jewish spy was roaming the streets of Antwerp pointing Jews out to the Nazis. His family was told that they were being resettled in Poland. Because someone at their selection had liked his freckled face, he had been separated from his family and transferred to Fürstengrube. Whereas most of those who arrived with him soon became Mussulmen, Kopelmann did all right.

Fürstengrube had a mélange of Jews. The French Jews didn't like the Belgians, the Belgians didn't like the Dutch, the Dutch didn't like the Germans, and no one liked the Polish Jews. The Russians didn't even count. And as for any cooperation between Jews and non-Jews who shared the same fate, that did not exist.

The biggest priority to our oppressors in Fürstengrube was mining coal and delivering it to Buna, where it was used to make synthetic rubber. To increase production, they brought inmate specialists from our governing camp, Buna. And there were more SS men. One guard told me how he had been made a guard. He was in the army, but one day his army papers, he claimed, were replaced with those of a member of the Waffen SS. He was sent to our camp.

A former POW, a Russian by the name of Boris, whom I got to know well, told me he planned to escape. I warned him against it, but he steadfastly maintained he would find a sure way out. One Sunday afternoon Boris, counting on the laxity of our guards during the ordered bed rest, climbed up the wall and jumped to the other side. Shortly thereafter the sirens rang, and in the yard lay Boris's body on display.

On Christmas night 1943, I awoke to blowing whistles. I looked out the window and saw inmates rushing out of the barracks and into the yard. In their midst was Lagerführer Moll, Unterscharführer Schmidt, Pfeiffer, Schwientny, all the Stubenältesters and the Kapos. A recent snowfall added light to the dark yard. First, all the block elders had their prisoners count off. Then they had them rush back to the blocks, just in time to drive them out again.

I didn't know what it meant. Suddenly I saw Moll burst into the camp and begin shooting. I heard three rounds of gunshots and a loud echo. I felt cramps within me, as if I had been hit. There was turmoil outside. When I looked out again, the inmates were rushing back to the barracks. Then I saw bodies and blood-spattered snow. One of the injured inmates was trying to get up, but he staggered and fell. Other wounded men were begging for help. The macabre scene resembled a dance of the dead.

What I saw that night overshadowed all previous cruelties that I had seen. I could not bear looking out any longer. I was on the verge of breaking down. I covered my eyes, believing that my father or my brother might be out there. I felt a deep shame that my circumstances had separated me from those whose fate I shared. I learned later from Grimm that Moll had been drinking that night, and when he heard that one of our inmates had escaped, he was furious and became uncontrollable. He ordered all inmates to the yard and released a salvo of machine-gun fire into the rows of prisoners. Had it not been for Unterscharführer Schmidt, who stopped him, the massacre would have been even greater, Grimm said. The escaped inmate who enraged Moll was Gabriel Ratkopf. For his act nineteen inmates were killed that night. They suffered and died alone, since Moll forbade any help. I knew one of the murdered, Max Glazer, who was shot in the stomach. Before the war he taught German at Prague University. This incident also prompted Otto Moll to demote Richard Grimm. He brought a new Kapo from the main camp, Otto Breiten, to became Fürstengrube's new Lagerältester.

To increase the mine's productivity further, I.G. Farben introduced bonus points, which could be redeemed at an I.G. Farben stand. Jewish workers, however, were limited to a maximum of four points, which got them very little. Nonetheless, the Kapos were pleased, since they got most bonuses and could use them to enjoy the company of the Nazi-coerced prostitutes in Birkenau.

With a new transport of Jews from Austria came many talented actors from a well-known Vienna theater as well as the conductor of the Vienna State Opera, Harry Spitz, and Tauber, the nephew of a popular opera singer, Richard Tauber. This undoubtedly gave Moll the idea to create an orchestra in Fürstengrube, and beginning in February 1944 our inmates went to and returned from work to the sound of German marching music. Mr. Spitz's past was shrouded in mystery. Some who knew him from Vienna claimed that he had once been married to Erna Sack, a famous German soprano. The story was that she had divorced him because of the Nazi racial laws. Staying married to a Jew would have ended her career. But Harry never spoke about it. Soon after they arrived, in an attempt to inject some light into an otherwise bleak existence, Spitz organized stage performances of Strauss, Lehár, and Kálmán operettas. The Germans liked that. A stage was constructed in the SS mess hall, and the first rows were reserved for the SS and I.G. Farben personnel. The Kapos followed, and behind them were seats for inmates. Even the sick attended. The Germans were fascinated by Tauber's tenor, and he was exempted from working in the mines.

One sunny day in February we saw the first Allied bomber fly over Fürstengrube. Two planes appeared, swooped down, and made a pass over us. We believed that they could distinguish who we were. We were ready to pay our price to see this nightmare end. We looked up to the sky, believing that they would drop their bombs on the camp on the next approach. To our regret they did not. We continued to be mired in our fate.

Otto Moll came to the dental station and asked me if I could make jewelry. I told him that my skills fell short of jewelry making, but I thought that there surely must be a jeweler in camp. The following day, I found an inmate, Simche Laufer, who, I was told, was an extraordinarily good jeweler. Moll relieved him of his job, and he began to work in the dental laboratory. With the limited number of jewelry tools I had, Simche blended down the twenty-two-carat dental gold from dead inmates' teeth into eighteen-carat jewelry gold. After hammering and chipping away at it, he created elegant pins, rings, brooches, and whatever else Moll ordered him to make. He also made Moll a pair of stunning gold cuff links. Simche's reward was an extra soup ration per day.

While the Nazis must have realized they would lose the war, Fürstengrube kept growing. A new barracks was finished. It was the end of February, and though the sun shone, it failed to warm us. The winds picked up the snow from the rooftops and blew it around into clouds. At night I could hear the wind whine and drive snow through the poorly joined wallboards.

SDG Hinze still stopped most mornings to continue his cruel routine with me, which had become an obsession with him. I heard about an instance at the construction site, where a guard had thrown away a half-smoked cigarette to provoke an inmate to pick it up. Tempted and little suspecting the outcome, one of the inmates reached for it and was riddled with the guard's bullets.

The lack of mine safety resulted in many inmate injuries. One afternoon an inmate from Dortmund, Germany, named Erich Wiltzig came to the dental station. He had been struck by a lump of coal at work. I looked at his bruised face, and when he moved his jaw, I saw that he had a fracture of the mandibular bone. I spoke with Dr. Lubicz, and he placed Erich in sick bay for two weeks--the longest time permitted. It actually took three times that long for his jaw to heal. Later, after he went back to work, he was brought back to camp dead. He had been labeled a work shirker, and a guard had shot him in another staged incident.

Winters posed greater threats to our survival, but the winter of 1944 was particularly cruel. The inmates returning from work were frozen stiff. Their coats looked like sheets of metal. For most of us, this was the third winter of captivity. It seemed that we were running out of the tenacity necessary to survive.

One day Willy Engel told me that a number of people from the International Red Cross were expected to come on Sunday to inspect the conditions in Fürstengrube. That Sunday we received a real meal: boiled potatoes, vegetables, and a slice of pork meat. Shortly thereafter, a group of distinguished civilians accompanied by Moll and the newly upgraded Scharführer Schmidt came in. Among them was also the Obersturmbannführer and Kommandant of Auschwitz I, Rudolf Höss. First they went into Willy's office. Next they came to my dental station. I heard Moll say this was a perfect example of the many kinds of health care they provided for us in Fürstengrube. I listened and wondered why not one of them asked me a thing. But what if they did? Could I tell them the truth? Dr. Lubicz said that the same thing had happened to him.

We heard stories about Polish partisans operating nearby. Our Polish inmates had been contacted by them, we were told, but they never contacted the Jews.

In May 1944 a new transport arrived. Among them were a few Norwegian Jews. One was the 1939 heavyweight boxing champ of Norway, named Boot.

Hinze kept up his routine of terror on me every day. Nothing ever softened his attitude. With no end in sight, I asked Dr. Lubicz for advice. Lubicz, I saw, feared him as well. He told me to speak with Josef Hermann, who by then had Moll's ear. But Hermann said that nothing could be done about the mistreatment of a Jewish inmate, and Hinze's streak of arrogance and misuse continued.

One day Blockkapos Maurice and Grimm and three Polish inmates were arrested while digging a tunnel from Maurice's barracks out beyond the fence. They dug the tunnel at night and carried the soil out in blankets. We did not hear how the guards found out. It was rumored that Goldstein, the camp barber, who was to go with them, betrayed them. Some blamed it on Josef Hermann. Anyhow, after they were quizzed about who else was involved and from whom they got the tools, they were sent to the gallows for the attempt to escape and join the partisans. Maurice, an always happy, good-spirited Frenchman, shouted down from the gallows at the Gestapo henchman, "You will pay for that soon!" And then to us, "Good-bye, comrades. Farewell!" Jan, one of the Polish inmates, sang "Jeszcze Polska nie zqinela," the Polish anthem.

I knew that every morning I had to undergo Hinze's ritual. I walked around like a caged animal until he came. Some days I felt like hiding when I saw him enter the camp. Then he came to the dental station and said to me, "You know what you have to do, dentist. You know the routine." Then he proceeded with the torment. This went on for four incredible months. With no way out, I decided to speak to Otto Breiten.

Breiten said that he would look in when Hinze was there. The next time Hinze came, Otto peeked in discreetly, looking at us through the window. He saw Hinze abusing me and also saw him using dental instruments to clean his fingernails. On the latter point he based his attack. Mistreating an inmate, Breiten thought, was an SS man's privilege, but sabotage of German property was a crime. He told me that he would talk to Moll. "Of course," he added, cautioning me, "You will have to tell all this to Moll, in Hinze's presence." I knew the risk, but I couldn't go on like this any longer. Breiten was certain that the best place to talk to the Hauptscharführer would be in the kitchen, while he ate the lavish meal that Koch prepared for him every day.

It was about twelve-thirty in the afternoon one day when Breiten came to me, urging me to hurry. "Moll is in the kitchen, and he is in a good mood. I told him everything about Hinze, and he wants to see you."

Willy Engel, who also knew about our plan, followed us, anxious about the outcome. "Lay it on him," Willy encouraged me.

As we came into the kitchen, Moll was having sauerbraten for dinner. Moll hardly looked in our direction, as if we weren't there. It wasn't long until Hinze arrived. He sensed something unusual, because in reporting to Moll he seemed uneasy. Moll continued eating as if he did not notice Hinze either. Hinze stood, looking at me and at Breiten, weighing what was going on. Finally the Hauptscharführer, with his mouth still stuffed, said to me, chopping each word, "The Lagerältester tells me that the SDG, Unterscharführer Hinze, often interferes with your work. Is that true?"

I knew what was to follow. I would have to complain to the Kommandant, to one SS man about another. But I knew that I could not back out. I had to go through with it. With butterflies in my stomach, I barely answered him, "Yes, Herr Hauptscharführer."

"Is it true that the Unterscharführer cleans his fingernails with your sterilized instruments?"

"Yes, Herr Hauptscharführer," I answered clearly and continued with the details.

Moll listened intently to everything that I said. He was getting angry. Punishing inmates was his own privilege. Then he turned to Hinze and in a stern voice said, "Is it true what the dentist says? What do you have to say, Unterscharführer?"

Hinze was dumbfounded and stood there silent. He did not seem to grasp the situation or believe what was actually happening. He, a Nazi officer, was being questioned about what he did to a Jewish prisoner? Finally he mumbled that he was not going to answer. That did not sit well with the authoritative Moll. "Ich sehe zu, daß Sie versetzt werden" (I'll see to it that you are transferred), Moll said and dismissed us all.

I still could not trust that Hinze's tyranny had come to an end. "You won't have to fear him much longer," Breiten said. It was more surprising when Hinze came to see me a few hours later. Calmly he said good-bye to me as if we had once been friends. Had it not been for Lagerältester Otto Breiten's courage and, of course, Moll's inflated ego, I would have never been freed of Hinze's misuse. This day was special, one I would not ever forget.

Another time it was announced that German political inmates could volunteer for the German army. Not all were eligible, nor had all the eligible signed up. Otto Breiten did, and Josef Hermann became Fürstengrube's new Lagerältester. Josef Hermann was the son of a Jewish architect. His given name was Hermann Josef, and he came from Ansbach, Bavaria. His mother had converted to Christianity. He was married to a Christian, he said. His father had designed the first low-income housing project in Germany; it was built outside Núremberg and called Gartenstadt. He came to Auschwitz as a Jew in 1942. When he was sick with typhus, he lay in the main camp's KB, and a doctor friend reversed his first and last names to make him sound Gentile. He was sent with us to Fürstengrube after his recovery. That is how the Jew, Hermann Josef, became the non-Jew, Josef Hermann. As camp elder, his position was precarious. He feared that the Kapos who came with us might know his real name and eventually give him away.

Nearly every week new Jews were delivered from such faraway places as Libya, Morocco, and Algeria. The Germans had arrested them in Vichy France. They were replacing the dwindling number of original inmates. Of the Jews from Dobra who had come with me here, only a few remained alive.

One day Kurt Goldberg came into the dental station. With coal dust baked into his face and his striped jacket hanging on his skeletal body, he was a bare image of the Goldberg I remembered. He was despised by his fellow inmates, who could not forget what he had done at Gutenbrunn. He now showed sensitivity that I thought he never possessed. "I am not here as your patient," he said. What he did in Gutenbrunn still haunted him, but he asked me for no pity. He just came in to unburden his soul. He regretted abandoning his Jewish heritage. Before he left me, he spoke in almost perfect Yiddish. Shunning those he once abused, he was completely resigned to the inevitable. In a sense, I thought, he didn't want to prolong his life. "I know that I deserve what I am getting. I am not going to last here much longer." I offered him some food, but he refused to take it. I had to persuade him to accept. This was the first time that I saw him at peace. He was completely resigned to death. A couple of days later I saw his shift returning. Someone was carried on a stretcher. I knew instantly that it was Goldberg. He was nearly unrecognizable. He was, at the end, a scant image of the man we had once feared.

I saw Boot, the heavyweight boxing champion, in the infirmary with a badly infected leg wound. With his large body and thick muscles, he looked every bit the boxer. The Norwegians were a small group, only five in all at Fürstengrube. They were proud of their country and spoke well of the courageous Norwegians that staved off their deportation for so long. But Boot's name ended up on a weekly selection list, and he was transferred to Birkenau. The irony of his life was that though he had been a winner in the ring, he could not win this bigger bout, and he died from undernourishment and overwork.

Hauptscharführer Moll eventually left Fürstengrube, and Max Schmidt, who had been in officer training school for three months, returned with the rank of Hauptscharführer. He was now the Kommandant. We heard that Moll went to assist in liquidations at camps in the east. Schmidt often came to have his teeth cleaned. He was easy to speak with and, unlike Moll, predictable. At times he had functioned as Lagerführer when Moll was absent.

One morning my brother slept beyond his usual time. When I shook him to wake him up, he pried his eyes open and then fell back to sleep. The next day he was well enough to open his eyes and drink water, but immediately thereafter he fell asleep again. By the third day, unsteady on his feet, he went back to work. I never learned which medication he took that made him so sick, or why he took it.

Within two weeks of Hinze's departure, a new SDG, Karol Baga, came to Fürstengrube. Baga was a Volksdeutscher and completely opposite from Hinze. He did not have Hinze's abysmal vocabulary and or his malevolence. Baga himself had once worked nearby as a coal miner. It seemed that he felt more comfortable with pick and ax than with his duty as a medic. He showed no interest in what anyone was doing. When he came to the dental station, he remained only long enough for me to say, "All is OK here," and then he left.

Finally, early in June 1944 we heard that the Americans had landed in Europe. The BBC reported their successes. This was the one step we felt would surely bring Hitler and his evil empire to an end. In July the heat of change was bearing down on the Germans. The Allies were pushing through France. The Soviets were chasing the Nazi army back through Poland and into Germany. They must have known that the end was near. We were trembling with hope. But all the SS men at the camp seemed to believe that Germany was still unconquerable.

Later in July we heard about an attempt to assassinate Hitler. It was unbelievable to hear that Hitler survived. We too thought then, as the Germans had, that he was indestructible. Dr. Lubicz expressed it best when he said, "If he is not defeated from within, this may still last a long time." He added, "The leaders of the free world met with Hitler several times before 1939, only to bargain away land piece by piece for his false promises. They knew of the widespread persecution of Jews then and failed to do anything for us."

By the end of July Greek Jews from Salonika were delivered to Fürstengrube. None of them understood German, but they proved themselves to be tougher than any of us.

One day, there were unusual lights in the sky, and columns of smoke drifted our way. We knew what the foul odor was. "The Nazis are gassing thousands of Hungarian Jews," we heard. "The crematories can not dispose of all those bodies, so they're being burned in pits in the forest." Soon everyone in our camp knew the cause of the amber-red skies and the stench that flooded the camp. Hungary, too, was soon to be Judenfrei. I went to the morgue, and the dead bodies lay in bizarre positions. I had not been there in days, and some of the corpses were badly decomposed. They smelled so foul that I could not bear it. I decided to leave and not return. Should I be asked about it, I would say that I forgot. But no one asked, and that was the last that I saw of the morgue.

The newest transport brought Jews from the Theresienstadt concentration camp. Among them was a dentist, Dr. Grosch. When he learned that Fürstengrube had a dental station, he came to see me. A few weeks before he had still been free in Prague with his wife and daughter, he said. "We were first taken to Theresienstadt, where they still are, I hope." He crossed two of his fingers. "And I was transported here." Dr. Grosch had taught oral surgery in a dental school in Czechoslovakia. He also wrote two textbooks on the subject. I reckoned him to be fifty years of age. He was tall and slender, and his face, only slightly lined, displayed a lot of wisdom and also sadness. But most of all it expressed unusual intelligence. The prison jacket he wore seemed three sizes too small for him. The red triangle, yellow star, and number, along with a T for Tschechoslowakei, were at his collarbone.

For me, the concentration camp was by now a way of life, but to Grosch, new to the situation, Fürstengrube seemed very frightening. I had compassion for him. When he asked if he could help me in the dental station, I decided to ask Hermann, the Lagerältester. Dr. Grosch was allowed to work with me. Fürstengrube now had its largest number of inmates, over fifteen hundred, with more than a hundred SS men.

I now had gained a great deal of practical dental experience, perhaps enough for a full dental degree. I knew "It hurts!" in at least ten different languages. I had also learned to devise surrogate methods for helping my patients, and in spite of their novelty some cures really worked. Some of the cases I treated were rarely seen at normal times. I set mandibular fractures and cared for extreme gingiva diseases and periodontal and root infections. Because of the lack of proper medication, the newly arrived Dr. Grosch was often unsure of what to do. His professionalism meant a lot to me. He often talked about life in Prague. The welfare of his wife and daughter was his major concern. He was fond of me. Once, with a twinkle in his eye, he said, "After this is over, I want you to be my son-in-law."

Hitler kept dangling miracle weapons before the German people. It was amazing that they still believed him. "The war is not lost," his disciples said. The guards, of course, must have feared they would someday be held accountable for their actions. However discouraged we were, our hope for freedom kept us alive. Perhaps it was a perpetually inherited trait of ours, passed on through the experience of prior persecuted generations. No one wanted to die, not after we had suffered for so long. But freedom was not yet ours.

On a rainy day early in September 1944, Moniek, a Stubendienst from the barracks where my father worked, came running to tell me that my father was unconscious on the washroom floor. When I arrived, Papa was lying on the cement floor, his face cold and sweaty. His eyes were closed, and he was barely breathing. Moniek helped me carry him to the KB, and Josek and I put him on a bunk. Seeing how distraught we were, Moniek called me aside. "I'll tell you what happened," he said, "but don't tell Nathan. Your father wasn't well this morning, and after the inmates left, he went to lie down on his bunk. But Kapo Nathan ordered him get up and sweep the floor. I took the broom, because I wanted to finish sweeping for him. When Nathan saw this, he called him lazy and ordered him to go on, hitting him until he fell down, unconscious. Then Nathan ordered us to take him to the washroom and pour water on him."

I was in shock. As I listened, my stomach knotted, and I gritted my teeth. "Why didn't you call me?" I demanded to know.

"It all happened so fast," Moniek responded.

When Dr. Seidel examined Papa, he shook his head. Neither he nor Lubicz made any prediction. When Josek and I insisted on being told what was wrong, Seidel said that when Papa's fever subsided he could tell us more. Dr. Lubicz injected Papa with a stimulant but couldn't revive him. We knew that our father's condition was very serious. It seemed that he opened his eyes once, but the pupils were fixed and glassy. They were not the eyes we knew. The thought of Kapo Nathan made me shake in anger.

Josek and I took turns watching Papa day and night. "Papa, do you recognize me?" I asked him many times. If he ever knew that we were with him, he did not give us any sign. He was burning up with fever. His forehead was hot and sweaty. We knew that he had little chance of living, but we couldn't admit it to ourselves. We sat hoping for a miracle. The next day Moll came and said he knew Papa was very ill. He allowed me to stay with him. The next evening Papa stretched out his arms as if to embrace us. We thought we saw his lips move, but there was only silence. Then his hands fell to his side. Dr. Lubicz looked at him but saw no promising signs.

The third night was Erev Rosh Hashanah, the night before our New Year. Suddenly Papa's face turned gray. He sank deeper into the coma and soon died. Though we knew all along that his death was inevitable, seeing it happen and seeing his lifeless body was extremely painful to us. My father was my hero, perhaps even more so because of the anguishing years in camp. I missed him enormously. Josek and I knew that his children could not bestow the last tribute, to give him a decent burial.

But the morning after Papa died, Moll said, "When I saw your father I knew he wouldn't make it. An ambulance will be here to pick him up. I know you say some prayers at burial for the dead."

"Yes, Herr Hauptscharführer. Kaddish is what we say."

"Jawohl, tell the driver to wait and to allow you both the time to say what you want." Moll could even be that generous and understanding. I thought of an old well-known Jewish proverb: "The worst anti-Semite has one Jew that he likes."

The next day, the first day of Rosh Hashanah, Papa's body was taken to Birkenau. Before that, however, Josek and I recited Kaddish, as best as we recalled it. "Eternal One! Father of our father. Have mercy on him, as he has passed to his eternal rest. He raised us to know that salvation is achieved by believing in thee. He lived for thee and led us in thy way. He never forsook thee and thy teaching."

We were sure that Papa's death was due to Nathan's beating. I went to see him. Nathan avoided me for a time, but I found him and asked: "Nathan, what did you do to my father? You killed him! Didn't you know that he was sick and not unwilling, but unable, to work? When Moll said that my father could help in a block, I sent Papa to work in your barracks because I knew you. I thought you would have some regard for his age. But I see how wrong I was. You are a Jew, but you are no less brutal than the SS are. Have no doubt, you will pay for this someday. People like you get what they deserve."

His face afire, he glared at me. But I knew that he would not dare hit me. "I didn't know that he was sick, I swear," he said. I looked him in the eye. I had nothing to add, so I left in disgust. A few months later Nathan Green tried to escape. He was caught and hanged.

In October 1944 my brother told me that the doctors from Auschwitz I had not been in the KB for three weeks. "Perhaps there won't be any more selections," he said. This proved to be true, and none of the inmates, even the most ill, were sent to Birkenau any longer. Our infirmary became full. The sick were now placed two to a bunk. In November the weather went from cold to freezing. Two more men from Dobra died that month. Days later two Polish inmates were caught hiding in a construction delivery truck. They were arrested and later hanged. The remaining Poles were then transferred out of our camp.

In the infirmary one day I heard loud moaning and recognized the voice of the orchestra conductor Harry Spitz. The band he conducted had ceased playing because most of the musicians had fallen victim to the strain of working in the coal mine. Spitz was well acquainted with me. When he saw me, he stretched out his hand and in a faint voice begged for water. I looked at him. The talented ex-husband of the German nightingale lay forgotten. I asked Dr. Lubicz what was wrong. "There isn't much I can do to help him," he said. "He has typhoid fever. He'll either recover or die."

I knew that Dr. Lubicz cared and that he would help if he could. Spitz was burning up with fever. "He wants water," I told the doctor.

"You can give him some, but just a little."

"Is he allowed food?" I asked.

"Nothing to eat," the doctor said and left in a hurry.

I brought Spitz a cup of water and put it to his lips. Despite what Lubicz had said, I let him sip a little at a time for nearly a half hour. Then I gave him a few encouraging words. "Hold on, you have a lot to live for. In a few days the war will be over, and you will go back to Vienna."

"I'll try, dentist, I'll try," he murmured. His eyes closed, and he fell asleep. I watched as his chest rose and fell rapidly. This must have been the worst of his crisis, because from then on he began to improve. Sometimes it took little to turn an inmate's fate around.

The Nazis tried to whitewash their failures. They came up with new phrases for defeat. "Consolidating forces," "shortening defense lines," was doublespeak. They also claimed that the long-awaited counteroffensive was about to begin. The German people continued to swallow the lies. In the meantime, Lipshitz heard that the Allies had taken France and were moving on to Germany through Belgium and the Netherlands. The coal mined by our inmates lay in heaps, unused. There was no purpose in keeping us there, but the dying continued. Nothing would motivate our obsessed captors to stop killing us. Was it Hitler's Teutonic nonsensical idea of "super race" and "subrace?" Was it because his propaganda made us out to be Unmenschen? Or was it just that the Germans followed blindly in Hitler's destructive wake? We saw Allied bombers flying over Fürstengrube with increased frequency. We looked up and prayed, hoping.

In December 1944 the mean winter storms arrived. Heavy snows fell and piled up in the camp. I still had the last kilo of dental gold that no one picked up. After Christmas the last non-Jewish inmates in our camp were shipped out. Except for the Kapos, Fürstengrube was now 100 percent Jewish. The Nazis bore down even harder on us.

During the first week of January 1945, all work, even construction, stopped. We knew that something significant was about to happen. We heard that the Allies had crossed the Rhein and were deep inside Germany. In the east, the Russians had crossed the Oder and were aiming for Berlin. It was obvious that the German armies were crumbling. Just when hope arose, a rumor swept the camp that we were to be sent deeper into Germany.

By the end of that week we could hear the war closing in. Artillery shells were arcing above us, lighting the night sky with their glow. Fighting grew so intense that we could sometimes differentiate among the weapons. We learned that we were to leave Fürstengrube, but there was no clue about where we were being sent. We feared Birkenau most. Josef Hermann assured us that while he didn't know where we would be going, he knew that we were not going to Birkenau. "Whoever doesn't feel strong enough to walk can stay," he said. We didn't believe that staying behind would be a safe option. Everyone who felt remotely capable decided to leave. The warehouse was opened, and inmates took the clothes or shoes that were still there.

I took a parting look at the dental station, which had been my security and my torture chamber for nearly a year and a half. Willy and Viky Engel were outside burning the SS office records, under the watchful eye of the newly promoted Scharführer Pfeiffer. Dr. Grosch left the station and returned to his barracks.

I gathered a bagful of dental instruments. Then I saw the melted gold clusters. I packed it all up and went to my brother in the KB. "Two hundred and fifty inmates will remain in the KB," he said. They were aware of the jeopardy they faced, but they were too sick to travel. They knew that, walking, they wouldn't have survived long. They hoped that the Russians we heard were approaching might save them. What later happened was reported by a lone survivor in the book Hefte von Auschwitz, by Tadeusz Iwaszko.

The SS left with the groups of inmates, and only a couple of foremen were guarding us. Hunger was our only companion. The next day we found outside the fence two dead horses. Those and potatoes we found kept us alive. We heard that the Russians were near. It almost seemed as if they were deliberately passing us by.

On January 17 about twenty SS men came. At first we thought they were also retreating and would not harm us. Anyway, as they saw us, they began to shoot at our barracks. One threw a hand grenade into the KB, where we were. One of them looked in and shot whomever he saw move. I was hit with a bullet in my leg, and I faked death. The SS men then placed explosives at the barracks corners and set us afire. The roof soon caved in, and a part of it fell on me. Most in the block were dead by then. I feared moving, because if they saw me they would kill me. But I also knew that if I lay there I would burn to death. When the flames reached me I had a decision to make. I slowly crawled out on my hands and knees and hid behind a pillar. Then I saw the same SS men going into another barracks, where I knew a few inmates were hiding. This time they didn't bother to shoot them; they just burned the barracks down.

The people in the nearby villages must have known what was going on, yet no one came and stopped them. Finally, after the SS men left, a few of the villagers came to extinguish the fires. German soldiers in passing looked at us and said to them, "Don't bother, those are only stinking Jews." The 239 that were killed were buried afterward in one mass grave. *

* Tadeusz Iwaszko, Hefte von Auschwitz 16 (Auschwitz: Verlag Staatliches Auschwitz-Museum, 1978): 71. Quotation translated by Benjamin Jacobs.

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