Can you describe the transport from Westerbork to Auschwitz?
When we got to Auschwitz in the box cars from Holland which lasted about a week to get there...and by the way, the Germans were so determined to kill people that while they were fighting a war on the Russian side, in Eastern Europe, the railroads–planes weren't used in those days–the railroads had priority, the boxcars going to Auschwitz had priority on the rail lines to Auschwitz, before the army troops were supplied on the Eastern Front. You can see how obsessed they were with killing people.
Can you describe the day you were deported from Westerbork to Auschwitz?
Yes, that was a tough one. I was told that since I had turned 15, I would be taken away from parents, which was for everybody. I went on the transport, on the boxcars, I was taken away from parents, and I went in the boxcars. I don't remember exactly, obviously we said goodbye to each other just in case. I think about it as I get older much more. I was 15 years old, I was a kid. I think about how my parents must have felt. I was the first born, I had a sister was three years younger, I told you earlier. Obviously, families are close. I was always a very good student, so they never criticized me too much because I liked to study. I was the first born in that whole family, on both sides of the brothers and sisters. That must of been horrible for my parents. They took me away and I went in a boxcar with 80-90 people, I don't know. We were in there for five days. I don't remember the details, but I remember the event, obviously. You were not treated as a human being this was like when they buy cattle on the farm and put them in the boxcars, the same boxcars, and take them to the auctions.
Can you describe what you remember about the box car and the transportation before getting to Auschwitz?
Yeah. I was taken away from my parents, I was about fifteen or thereabouts, I don't remember the month, it was 1942, towards the end of '42. Fall weather, I think it was September. In the box car there were about eighty-some odd people. We were allowed to keep our clothes in the camp we were in Holland. And I remember that my mother put an extra coat on me because, going to Poland, it's always cold there, you know, snow and everything, east of Germany, it was cold. I didn't know, but that's what people thought about it. So, we were men and women in the same car and there was no food, but my parents gave me enough food that I could survive in there. The people died in the boxcars and we used them, we put them on the perimeter of the boxcars, they were used as benches because there was no place. There was no way to go to the bathroom, there was no bathroom. Whatever happened, happened.
We were not given any food, but my mother – remember we didn't know where we were going, nobody knew where we were going – being the way she was, she put in every pocket, I had some food, some bread, and whatever she had. And then, she put on an extra coat on me on top of a regular coat. I had two coats because we knew we were going to the east, meaning Poland, that we know pretty well, and we know that in Poland it gets very cold. In the boxcars itself we sat. And people were dying so we put them around on the side and people sat on the corpses. There was no toilet, pardon the expression, so whatever you had to do you had to do.
I remember, vividly, one or two, three people actually, and one of them was a girl that was my age, we went to school together, and we held on to each other for some reason. We never dated, you know we were too young for that and Holland was very conservative anyhow. We sat there and we held onto each other. She was killed when we got to Auschwitz, but I remember that because she was a girl I went to school with for a couple of years. And some of them I knew, some of them I didn't know. But there was no such thing as toilets or water – people were very thirsty. And five days later the doors opened and a third of them had died, suffocated.
Then we were in Auschwitz, in Birkenau. Then they started screaming, "Out, out, out," so we went out. And we were standing in line to be selected. You have heard of Mengele, a famous doctor? And he stood in front of the line, there were about eight, nine people in each row, and he said to me, I remember quite well, in German, he said, "How old?" So, for some reason, God made me say 18. I was only 15 but I was chubby, with a coat on. I looked kind of not very thin. And, I said eighteen, and he goes like this [flicks arm to the right]. And, I see people who went, and the others go like that, with his whip [flicks arm to the left]. The ones who went there [left] went on trucks. I figured as I'm standing there, I said, "Why did I lie? Now I have to walk, and God knows how far. These people are all going on trucks. I could have been on the trucks if I didn't lie." But the ones who went on the trucks went to the gas chambers. Out of the four thousand they took about maybe four or five hundred who had to work. And that depended on if they needed a work force.
For instance, when I got there, they hadn't kept anyone alive from Holland for six months. There was one person who went on the first transport from Holland to Auschwitz, and he knew me, and I knew him, he was about a year, year and a half older than me maybe. And when he heard there was a transport from Holland he came to the barracks where they had us, holding us, because there wasn't anyone kept alive. Every Tuesday a train left from Holland to Auschwitz—they were all killed constantly until they needed some work force. That's why I'm alive and that's why he was saved on the first [transport]. He was saved, I may have told you in class, he was a magician, I told that story, so that's how he saved his life.
We got to Auschwitz. We got out of the box cars and there was a big yard area and we lined up about seven, eight to ten people lined up. In front of this group stands the famous Mengele, you have heard about him, he was the head of Auschwitz, and he had a whip in his hand, I remember. When he got in front of me he said to me in German, I spoke German of course, "How old? Wie alt?" And only God could have made me, I said, "Achtzehn, 18." I had an extra coat on and I was a little chubby, and he goes like this [gestures right]. So I go that way. And the people behind me, they went like that [gestures left]. The people on this side [gestures left] went on trucks. Where I went we started marching. So I said to myself, "Why did I lie? I shouldn't have lied. I would have been on trucks, maybe I got to march for hours and hours." Well, the ones on trucks went to the gas chambers, and the ones on this side [gestures right] about 5% of the people, they were kept alive, we went to the barracks.
You mentioned you had a tattoo. Would you mind showing us that?
didn't have a name any longer you got a number and that was you were
registered under that number not under any names.
Did everyone have a number?
I see it every morning in the shower, right? Or when I go to bed at night. To be very blunt about it, it bothers me more now than it has bothered me in all these other years, in recent years, as I get older because you think more about things. I see it more, I see it more now. I don't have any short sleeves. People ask me, because I always have long sleeve shirts, sports shirts too. I see it more now than I used to in the last 5-6 years. Men and women, it was not only men. By the way, men and women, not together, there was a men's camp and women's camp.
I was scared to death and hungry, always hungry. It's hard to explain how we felt because we didn't have time to think. We got up at four in the morning and we had to work. I was mostly on the road gangs doing street repairs and whatever they called it. Not street repairs like here, but moving stones around, moving dirt around. It's hard to explain how you felt, you were so scared. But I always felt, number one, I tried not to be visible too much, I never stood outside of a group of people, I would always stay on the inside. My friend told me that.
And also I wanted to get through, I wanted to stay alive. And there was a lot of suicides, a lot. I never felt that because I wanted to see my parents again and my sister again. And I wanted to tell the story. That came later. It just was this innate feeling that I had to make it. Now, did I say it in so many words then? No, nobody did because the transport that I was on, nobody's alive, nobody came...at the tail end in '45 there was no one left of those people. The women and children were killed immediately. And the old people. They only kept the men who could work.
That was Auschwitz. Now when I got to Auschwitz, rather Birkenau, which is next door, we had no idea in Holland what would happen on this trip. All we were told, we were going to the east to Poland to be kept there during the war and then they would bring us back, that's all that they told us. None of us knew there were gas chambers. We knew there were camps, we had heard of Dachau, but not of gas chambers. But then in Birkenau where we worked, I worked in road gangs, I was on a road gang a week after I got there, and in front of the gas chambers to do some digging in the roads, I don't know, rocks, moving rocks. And my friend who had come in there with me, he tapped me on shoulders, and said, "look over there!" And I saw my parents and my sister marching by, but they were marching into the gas chambers and I was working in front of the building. And I stopped working, I fainted almost, and I was beaten up, I still have scars on my back. Now then we knew that the gas chambers were working 24 hours a day. It went on for years and years until about the end of '44.
The food intake was about 200 calories. You got a piece of bread in the evening. The next morning you got some what they called "tea" with some warm water, whatever color. At lunch you got a bowl of soup and every four people had a bowl, so you never had your own. So four people ate out of the bowl. That was our food. At night the bread you had to eat immediately because if you didn't, either you couldn't keep it all night because the rats would eat it if you had it under your hat, or they would steal it from you, people were so hungry.
And not all people were gassed, a lot of them died. There was typhoid there. Somewhere my friend who, the one I mentioned earlier, he was there six months before. He was on the first transport which had left Holland. Then for six months every week a transport came in - they left on Tuesdays in the camp I was in and they got there by about seven or eight days later. Every transport between when he got there and when I got there, they were killed, there was no one selected. When they selected it was because they had some empty barracks because of those killed. Every Sunday we didn't march to work first, we first stood in line to be selected if you couldn't work. If they saw something anything on you that you were suppose to...that you couldn't work, they would say...you went to barracks number thirteen. Barracks number thirteen meant you are going to the gas chambers. Unless you worked there you weren't kept alive.
The beatings were horrible with the dogs, they all had dogs, those Germans, the SS men, the dogs and the beatings. I remember the camp commander–that I remember vividly–had a motorcycle and he used to go on the main street of the camp in Birkenau. He had a pistol in his hand and anything he saw moving, human beings, he shot, he used you for target practice. Life was absolutely, totally worthless to these people. That I remember.
Then, I mentioned earlier, we got out when I ended up in Warsaw. But Birkenau is something that no one can explain to you. We slept on wooden planks and you had about four guys with a blanket, if you had a blanket. We all got, of course, uniforms, the striped uniforms you may have seen. We had a number on ours, arms which I have. You were shaved, your hair was shaved. They even checked if you had gold in your mouth, fillings, you were destined to be killed because the gold was taken out and saved for the German banks or whatever. Luckily at that time I didn't have, now I have a couple of fillings at my age, but in those days I had all of my teeth. But if you had gold in your mouth you were gone because they took all that gold out, they killed you.
The people who worked in the gas chambers, these were prisoners like me, except I never worked there inside. They lived for 90 days. Every 90 days they were taken away and killed, they were shot they weren't gassed. They got better food than we did, that we know. But every 90 days they were killed because they want to make sure if they ever were surprised by being liberated, they didn't want any witnesses. So every 90 days the people who worked in the gas chambers were shot to destroy evidence. As you well know when the Russians came, who liberated Birkenau and Auschwitz, the gas chambers were all bombed, they were all blown up. There was none intact because they tried to destroy the evidence.