When you were in Auschwitz, what were some of the different jobs or tasks that you had to do there?
In Auschwitz I worked on the road gangs, fixing streets. And then I worked for a while in the gravel pits, you know the gravel pit and rock quarries. I was then taken to wherever they built. When I was in Dachau and outside Dachau, I was in a camp which was in Kaufering, which is close to another town in Bavaria which was a side-camp of Dachau. There were about a couple thousand people in this camp. Again the same conditions. We worked and we built underground factories for the German V2. The Germans invented a V2 which is a rocket, today it is not used anymore, but then it was the most feared rocket called the V2, which was used against England, by the way, during the bombing of London.
And we built outside there near Munich, near Laser area, we built what's called an underground ammunitions factory. Now how did they build them? They had all these laborers, you know, lots of them. We had like, buckets, that big, and we had to carry them up the hill, and we built a mountain maybe 100 feet high and very long. And then the professionals–the contracting firms–came in, and poured a wall, 3, 4, 5 foot concrete wall over those rocks that we had carried up on that hill, starting from the bottom. When the concrete had dried then they had heavy hoses and washed it all out, so they now all of the sudden a tunnel. It was 50, 60 feet high which was like a warehouse at that point. And that was used to build the V2 rocket for use.
But, of course, the war was almost over by then, because I was in that camp until about two weeks before 1945. We were liberated on April the 30th, but we were there until about the first, second week of April, and then they moved us back to Dachau, because the Americans had broken through. But to get us back, we marched for about five, six days and to get us back and to stay on the march they had fake arm bands, the Germans, and they said, "We have orders to take you to Switzerland." And this is why we stayed with the troops, with our gang. Otherwise we could've had a chance to escape during the nights, because we slept on the side of the road. But they kept on saying, "No you'll stay with us. We have orders to take you to Switzerland." We were elated. When they told us that we all stood there and cried. I remember vividly. But it wasn't true, it was a lie because we ended up back in Dachau, behind electric fences.Then we were liberated within a week, there was no food at the last moment.
Going back to the camp – can you describe the Kaufering camp?
Kaufering was just a camp with barracks. We were there to build for the German war industry underground factories where they built the V2 – you know the first rockets they shot into England – they were built near Dachau where we were, outside Dachau. It's Lander, it's in southern Bavaria. The camp was where you slept, in the barracks. All they were was a hole was dug and they put an A-frame on top. You know what an A-frame is? It's just a roof. The rest was all dirt. That's where we slept, underground. Each barrack had about, maybe, a hundred people in it. There were an average of about three and a half thousand people in there. There were maybe, seven, eight, ten camps like that in the area. They all worked for the German war industry.
How can you compare Kaufering to Auschwitz? In your book you state that starvation was so severe that the German guards caught people eating corpses on several occasions. In your opinion was it worse?
In Kaufering? Well, one thing we didn't have in Kaufering, there were no gas chambers. You died of starvation, or beatings. Then, of course, the camp had wire around it which was under high voltage all the time and a lot of people went in the wires. In the morning, they had a whole team of lorries they called them, carts, where they picked the bodies and they were burned. The beatings weren't as bad as Auschwitz. They weren't good, the German guards, but we had to work more. There was a purpose of why we worked there, for their war industry. But yes, there were beatings. There certainly was enormous hunger. The hygiene killed a lot of people, like I talked about earlier.
Auschwitz was a factory town. That's all it had, all it did was killing people. The Germans had the trains going to Auschwitz while the war with Russia was going on. It was an enormous war for the Germans, they wished they'd never tackled that. The trains to Auschwitz had priority on the rail lines before the trains that went to the Eastern front, the Russian front, to take supplies and soldiers there. Auschwitz had priority on the rail lines. That's how serious they were about this.
Did you feel like the work was harder in Kaufering compared to Auschwitz?
No. I wouldn't say it was harder. You didn't see the crematoria going over there – there were seven of them – going day and night. That was already a winning situation, by not being there. You could either die in Kaufering, from hunger, or typhoid, or diarrhea.
You mentioned in your book, that you were able to visit the women's camp one night at Kaufering. Did you notice any differences between the men's and women's camps?
No. It was just as bad. They were next to us. There were 40-45 women. We tried to help them because they were very weak. Most of them didn't make it. Let me tell you, the women guards were no better than the men guards. They were also animals those women guards. They beat them up just as much as the men did.
While you were at the camps, were there great national barriers between the prisoners?
The French had a tough time because they only spoke French, they didn't speak German, they didn't speak Yiddish. Then we had Jews from Salonika, Greece, who spoke Spañolish because they had already gotten there in 1492 when Spain did what they did. There was little communication, until they learned some German they couldn't communicate with anybody. But the majority of the people in the camps, with the exception of Warsaw, were Polish Jews, the majority because they had the largest Jewish community there before the war. They all spoke Yiddish which some of us understood. There were some Jews who had gone from Poland to France so they spoke some Yiddish, very little.
But the Dutch had a very tough time – the majority of the Dutch Jews only spoke Dutch. They didn't speak German or had never heard of Yiddish before, I never had heard it, neither did any of the Dutch. They had a tough time, they didn't live very long in general in Holland because out of the 140,000 Jews in Holland, 120,000 were killed. They lived too good a life maybe, we don't know what it was, but they had no staying power, like the Poles had, like the Poles from Warsaw. The French had a little better, but the Dutch Jews did not have much staying power. We had Danes there, we had Norwegians, there were very few. Luxembourg– some – a few, Belgium – more, and French of course. And some Italians, we had Italians there too. Austrians and the Balkans. Romania, Yugoslavia, all of the Balkans.
How did you identify the Red Cross?
were invisible. They tell people though that they they did, but they
didn't do a damn thing. They never came near the camps, never. When
the war was over, I can almost forgive them that they didn't come to
the camps because the Germans didn't want them there, but they could
have done it. But what we were angry about, and still are, is that
when the war was over, they weren't there either.
Then of course the night of liberation, near the camp they had huge anti-aircraft batteries that the Germans were using against the RAF, the British Royal Air Force and the American Air Force. They used the anti-tank/anti-aircraft units and shot into the camp. They killed thousands of people on the last night. Then we were liberated early in the morning when the American tanks came it. Then they opened the gate, the American soldiers. And I remember one soldier gave me a cigarette. I hadn't had a cigarette since I left Holland. I took a puff and I fainted, I mean I wasn't used to that anymore, and we were very hunger. I remember that soldier handing me a cigarette. But they were angry, the American soldiers, they were angry, they killed every German they saw because of what they had done to the people in the camps.
I'm not talking only about Jews now, I want you to know that. In Dachau there were very few Jews left. These were political prisoners, Jehovah's Witnesses, religious prisoners, priests, and Jews, Gypsies, and the political prisoner were from different parts of Europe. So there was a mixture of everything, we had I don't know how many languages.
The Americans were unbelievable. They gave us too much food, a lot of people died, I was telling earlier to Debbie about the Americans, they figured "food," and they gave us food. And the creations rations are very high calorie and we weren't used to that. Luckily it didn't affect me, but it affected a lot of people and they died of diarrhea again, couldn't handle it. So they were liberated and they died a week after, two weeks after, they couldn't handle the food. So all these things in my mind.
The most important thing is that I am here. I have great life in San Francisco, I have wonderful friends. Some of the kids here I know their families very well and I love them dearly because they have been very loyal friends to me. So, you can't stop living, we can make a difference, like I tell you, you can all make a difference in this world. You try to do the best you can, go to college. I never had that opportunity, but I read a lot, I read a lot. This was how I educated myself. It's doable too.
I believe very strongly in the fifth commandment, that's another thing I say often. The fifth commandment says, "Honor, thy father and thy mother." Honor your parents and your grandparents, and older people. I think that's good for civilization anyhow, and I feel very strongly about that, as much as I never had a chance to do it. But we should think about those things.
Did you meet any American Jews?
No. In the camps? No. At the liberation? There were some soldiers, yes. I remember a couple of them. I remember my good friend, the one I mentioned, the magician, we found this girl in one of the camps next to us, and he had never been married, he was young. He looks at this girl and he says to me, "Isn't she beautiful?" I said, "Hell, she's have alive the poor girl." He saw something in her eyes. He says, "I got to help her, I got to help her." We got food for her and before we knew it after a week or so he says, "I'm going to get married, I'm going to marry her, I'm going to take her with me back to Holland." Now I had to find a chaplain, a Jewish chaplain, to marry them, which we found. They got married and went back to Holland and the three of us lived together in Amsterdam for a while. We had one mattress, the three of us with one mattress. We had nothing, in the basement of somebody's house. We became like brothers and sister. They had a good life, he was internationally known as a magician. She was a doll, she was from Lithuania. They had a good marriage. She couldn't have children because they experimented on her in Auschwitz, which we didn't talk about.
In Auschwitz, it was very famous, they experimented on people in any form that you would not do with dogs or cats or animals. Injecting poison, aborting when they came in they were pregnant-aborting them at any age of the nine months. Twins were a big winner for them, when they found twins and identical twins, the Germans, they experimented on those people. There was a lady in San Francisco I knew well, she's not alive anymore, she was experimented on and couldn't have children. My friends wife, my best friend, she was like a sister to me, couldn't have children, they experimented on her. They experimented on human beings things no doctor who has any knowledge of medicine would think of that should be done, or think that you could do that to a human being. What they do now with rats, you know they experiment with rats in this country for medical purposes? The German experimented on those people under the guise "we are doing for humanity." That's a bunch of BS. The women...
The men they did castrations, a lot – middle size, regular size, big size – they castrated men and they had the worst time, they couldn't live much longer. I knew quite a few who were picked. They picked certain individuals who looked like they were "macho-macho" or whatever. They castrated and injected them. But the women were worse. In Auschwitz it was prevalent, big operation, what they did to women there you can't even talk about what they did to them. Inject them with semen from animals, you name it. Anything you can think of that you wouldn't want to talk about, they did it the people.
Now we are talking about a so-called "civilized society" they came from. I remember vividly in the medical schools in Europe, in Germany, a large segment of the students came from the United States because they wanted to be doctors. They didn't have the medical schools, then, before the Second World War than we have now in this country. Now they are coming to the United States to learn. But before the Second World War they came to Germany because we have limited capacity of medical schools in this country. That's how civilized the nation was. Where came these people from? Mengele was an MD! So were some of the others, he wasn't the only one of course in Auschwitz. In other camps the same thing. But the biggee was Auschwitz. The experiments there were un-un-unreal. From mental to...anything you can think of there's something written about.
Did they keep those people in certain barracks? Were they isolated?
they were separated. They were taken out of the men's camp, and the
women's camp and there were barracks where they had them.