The Jewish Holocaust Collection includes the personal collections and files of Sheboygan residents who survived the Holocaust and its aftermath. Material contributors are Fela (who died on Sept. 20, 2006) and Anschel Warschau (who died on June 13, 2013); Lucy Baras, who died on Feb. 5, 2002; Regina Jacob (who died on April 10, 2015); Lucy and Robert Matzner (Robert died on Aug. 23, 2016); and Morris Zelpe, who died on June 14, 2002. These photographs were taken by portrait photographer Gene Schuttey. The family of Ben Racer also made posthumous contributions on his behalf.
In Memory of Fela Warschau
October 15, 1926 - September 20, 2006
“Remembering the Holocaust is for everyone–those who care and those who should care. It is important to the history that is the past–for the truth of what was. And, it is important to the history of the future–to maintain the truth. And to the choices the world can make from such knowledge.”
Fela Warschau was a young schoolgirl in Ozorkow, Poland, when the German Army occupied the city in 1939. In 1942, her family was taken to the Jewish ghetto in Lodz, Poland. Two years later, they were transported to Auschwitz where she and her sister were separated from the rest of the family members, none of whom survived the Jewish Holocaust. After a short time in Auschwitz, Fela Warschau and her sister Helen were put to work in Hamburg, Germany, picking up large pieces of debris resulting from Allied bomb strikes. Toward the war’s end, they were taken to Bergen-Belsen where they nearly died from starvation and exhaustion shortly before being liberated by British troops in 1945.
She met Anschel in a resettlement camp and they married on May 10, 1946. In 1951, they came to Sheboygan to join Fela’s sister under the sponsorship of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. They raised their two daughters, Martha and Sally, here.
In 1978, Fela returned to Poland for a very emotional visit to her homeland, including Auschwitz.
After a story about her experiences appeared in The Sheboygan Press in 1985, Fela began getting requests to tell her story to school children and others in the Sheboygan area, and throughout the state. In 1995, she was interviewed and videotaped for the archives of the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.
This is an excerpt from the obituary for Anschel Warschau that was published in The Sheboygan Press on June 15, 2013:
Anschel Warschau, age 93, of Sheboygan, died peacefully Thursday morning, June 13, 2013.He was born March 3, 1920, in Lodz, Poland to Pincus and Blima Warschau. He attended schools in his hometown, where his father was a baker and he was a baker's helper. After the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939, they created a Ghetto in Lodz under their control. Being 19, street-smart and resourceful, Anschel sought any work he could to feed himself and his family. When he was sent to Strogen, a labor camp near Danzig, in May 1942, his family had been disbursed, one not knowing where the other had been sent. From July 1942 to October 1944, he was in the Kowno Labor Camp, Roja Labor Camp, Gavesen Labor Camp, Metenes Concentration Camp in Riga, Latvia, Kaiserwald Concentration Camp, Latvia, Stutthof Concentration Camp in Stutthof, and Buchenwald Concentration Camp, Germany. In October 1944, he was in Troeglitz Concentration Camp in Germany, until he was sent to Theresienstadt Concentration Camp in Czechoslovakia in April of 1945, from which he was liberated in May 1945. Anschel traveled a bit throughout Europe. Eventually he made his way home to Lodz looking and hoping for any family or friends. He had lost his parents, two brothers and two sisters. Ultimately he found himself in a displaced persons camp in Feldafing, Germany where he worked as a policeman. It was there that he met Fela Jakubowicz and they were married on May 10, 1946. The couple, along with their daughter, Martha, immigrated to the United States and settled in Sheboygan in 1951.
Anschel was employed at Hayssen Mfg Co., until his retirement in 1985. Anschel wholeheartedly supported his wife, Fela's mission to educate others about their story of the Holocaust. He, too, felt passionately that his life's experiences should hold a place in history, and that people should know the truth of what happened. If asked, he would provide stories and details of the horrors he felt no one could ever believe. He was interviewed in the late 1970's for oral history documentation, and years later for Steven Spielberg's Shoah Foundation. On October 2, 2011, the Mead Public Library celebrated the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the Fela and Anschel Warschau Room created as the home of Sheboygan's Jewish Holocaust Collection. The Room opening celebration was held on September 16, 2001.
Anschel was a faithful member of Congregation Beth El. Following Fela's death it was important for him to maintain his relationship with the Synagogue to continue the traditions that connected them to their faith and community.
He was a regular mall walker, where he met and made many friends over the years.
My name is Lucy Baras. I was born in a small city in eastern Poland which is now western Ukraine. I come from a middle class family. We were neither rich nor poor. Our city had only a seven-grade school. At the age of 13 I left home to attend high school in a larger city and at the age of 18 I went to another city to enroll in law school. (There were no pre-law or pre-med schools.) After two years I dropped out from the four-year course because of anti-Semitism.
Then I took a tailoring course and opened my own shop in my home town. In September 1939 Hitler attacked Poland from the west and the Soviets crossed the Polish border from the east. I lived under Soviet occupation until June 1941 when the Nazis attacked Stalin.
This was the beginning of the Holocaust. My father, together with a few hundred Jewish men, was killed on the first day of the German occupation. We were herded into a ghetto and went through five "resettlement actions" when Jews were loaded into trains for death camps. In Spring 1943 the city was declared "free of Jews'' and only those in the labor camp on the outskirts of the city were still allowed to work and live. The camp was only for the young but my brother and I smuggled our mother in.
In Summer 1943 the camp was annihilated in two massacres. The Jews had to dig their own graves. Mother was killed during the second camp "action." My brother and I survived the last nine month in the forests. We were freed by the Russians March 1944.
My brother was inducted into the Polish-Russian army and was killed March 1945.
The long recovery road brought us through Poland and Germany to the United States in May 1949.
This is the text:
All my sisters were killed by the Germans in Poland in World War II. There is no one of my family left.
My name is Regina Jacob. My maiden name was Shtrikman. My grandmother’s name on my mother’s side was Zimmerman. I was the youngest of four sisters.
We lived in in Szydlowiec, Poland in a ghetto area. My father had left my mother very early and I don’t even remember him. My mother sold vegetables to support us. She was always gone, so I raised myself.
The oldest sister was Golda and she was married and had four children. My brother-in-law, Golda’s husband, was a shoemaker.
Chaja (pronounced Haya) was the next sister She lived with our father’s parent in Radom, Poland. My mother couldn’t take care of four girls, so they took one -- they took Chaya. She became more educated than we were. Afterwards, she lived in Warsaw with her husband and her child. She was a dressmaker. When her house was bombed, she moved, with her child and mother-in-law, back to Szydlowiec.
Hannah was a couple of years older than I was. She was never married, but at the time of the war, she had a boyfriend.
I never finished school. I want to school for a time, but then my mother told me not to go to school -- I wouldn’t learn anyhow.
My mother, at the early part of the war, was sick in the hospital and died of throat cancer during the war. When my mother was dying, nobody was allowed into the hospital, so I would just look in the window at my mother. She could see me, but she couldn’t talk. I was the only one who went to see her. She was in the hospital a few weeks and when she died, we had a funeral.
After my mother died, we all lived in the same house in the ghetto for a couple of years.
I was about 18 when the Germans came. Golda said it’s better I go with them. She had four kids, what could she do? I had a better chance alone, she said, and she was right. When the Germans starting picking up people, my sisters hid, and I was alone.
Later, I saw Hannah’s boyfriend in a concentration camp and he told me she had sent packages to me during this time, but I never got them.
I walked the street. The children they would throw down like potatoes onto the truck. I didn’t see them, but people told me. People were nothing to the Germans … just like animals … animals are treated better than that. To kill somebody for them was just nothing. Some people threw food down to us. They’re not all bad -- some of them felt sorry for us, but some of them couldn’t do anything, you know.
The Germans took me from the street -- I was just walking. I had no money, nothing. I was very sad. Somebody should have taken care of me. -- I was the youngest. Somebody should be here now so I could tell them this, but there’s nobody. I didn’t care that the Germans took me.
When I went with the Germans, I was sent to Scorshisk, a camp in Poland. They took thousands of us. The Germans had clothes from the people they had killed -- there were wagons full of clothes. They gave us clothes.
Every morning we had to go out and stand in a line. The Germans picked out the sick-looking people and sent them away to a crematorium. Every day, we had to go through that One woman made me a nice dress and we put makeup on. We wanted to look good. I was always strong looking, even on the heavy side. We didn’t get any breakfast. In the evening, we got a piece of bread and we left it for the morning, for breakfast.
We didn’t have much work in Scorshisk. We sorted out clothes and sorted out vegetables and they would give us a spoonful of soup.
Every day I was scared. They had a hospital there where you laid on straw bunk beds and every day, the Germans would come with a truck to see who is the sickest and they took them away. I went to the hospital to help out with the people and I got typhus. they put me in the hospital then because I was young -- if I was old, they would have taken me away.
One day, when I was sick with typhus, the Germans told me to come down from the bed. the nurse, she said to them, “Oh, she’s getting better already.” That must have been from God, so there would be at least one person left of my family. She told me to go back to bed.
After Scorshisk, they took us to Czestochowa, Poland, where I worked in an ammunition plant. The machine threw the ammunition out like cigarettes and I had to watch the machine to make sure it didn’t jam or something. I remember people, but I don’t remember the names.
You couldn’t talk to anybody in the factory. I made a mistake and I went outside, right by the door, just to visit and talk to somebody -- a man, a friend. the boss, he saw me and they took off and I got beat up.
In the camps were Jewish, Catholics, Russians, Pollacks, even gypsies. The rich people couldn’t take it, but I wasn’t rich and I could take it. When I saw Hannah’s boyfriend in a camp, he told me he had been with my sister and he was on the train or something and he escaped and he wanted her to go along, but she said she goes where her sisters go. She was killed. After a while, the boyfriend was gone too from camp and I never saw him again. I think he must have been killed too.
Golda’s husband was also once in a camp where I was. the men were separate, but I talked to him through the fence. He said that the Germans told him if he signed up to go home, he could go home. He said he signed up to go home. but these men who had signed up didn’t know -- they were not going to send them home. They sent him to a crematorium.
Chaya and her husband were together, going through it together. They both were killed. My sisters -- all of my sisters and all of their children -- were killed.
After Czestochowa, we went on a train to Burgau, Germany. On the train, there was no air, no windows, no toilet, no pails, It smelled. There was nothing to eat. They took dead people every day off the freight train. We were on the train a couple of weeks or so and when we first got to Burrow, we sat outside with all our belongings from Poland. They didn’t know what to do with us. They had no work for us. We thought they were going to get rid of us.
When we got to Germany, there were no men. We didn’t see any men -- no Jewish men and no German men. The German women were worse than men -- they beat us. After a couple of day, they put us in a shower room. They took everything from us, so nobody had nothing, and we showered in cold water. Then they gave us uniforms to wear. Then we walked.
We walked from one city to another. For weeks we walked. We slept outside in the rain and some people couldn’t walk; they got sick. One woman right if front of me, she had a convulsion. They left her there. If you couldn’t walk, they either shot you or they left you there. Still, we liked it better -- walking, than being on the train. when the Americans came closer, they took us farther and farther and farther.
The Germans were so secretive and nobody knew what they were going to do next. After a while, people talk,, you know -- you find out. We used to see the smoke from far away from the crematoriums. A couple of miles away we could see the smoke.
We didn’t think about nothing. We just thought they were going to kill us or something -- that’s what we were frightened about. You get used to the fear.
The German soldiers with guns walked on both sides of us. Near the end, they said we should hold on, that pretty soon it would be over and we would be free. They had papers -- orders-- to get rid of us by the end, to kill us. But they didn’t do it because they wanted to save themselves.
I was in camps for three and a half years. When the Americans came, first the black soldiers came in. We hugged them, kissed the. That was in Alach, Germany, close to Munich. They come in with tanks and motorcycles and they were nice to us and they gave us everything we needed. We could eat anything we wanted. All over there was food. At that time, there were men -- even French men -- and after a while we saw that there were lots of men there at the camp. The men joined the women and we raided the Germans’ basements, where they lived, for food.
We stayed in the camps for a while where they gave us food. I think the food came from the Americans. The French men, they sent them back home. But we didn’t have no place to go -- we had no home. After a while, I moved to Munich and got a place from a German woman -- somebody paid for it.
I met Mayor Jacob on the bus -- he lived in Felderfein. He came on the bus looking for some family that lived next door to where I lived. I showed him where the person lived. Every day he came on the bus with his friend. I asked my Mayor, “Why you always bring him along?” and he finally came alone. In 1945, I moved in with Mayor in Felderfein.
AFTER THE WAR
After a while, in 1946, we got married. It wasn’t a big wedding. He had been in the camps, like I was. He had a big family but everyone’s gone except one brother, who now lives in Milwaukee.
Our daughter, Gale, was born in 1948 in Germany and we moved to Sheboygan, Wisconsin a year later. We came on a ship through Boston. We brought one wooden box with dishes and silverware -- no money, nothing. The Jewish community of Sheboygan sponsored us and found us jobs and a place to live. My son, Max, was born in Sheboygan in 1950.
I have never returned to Poland.
When World War II broke out on Sept.1,1939, I lived with my parents, a sister, and a brother in Bielsko, Poland.
My family and I fled ahead of the advancing German army to a city by the name of Sosnowitz.We were overtaken there by the Nazi forces and were unable to continue.We were rounded up with hundreds of other Jewish refugees and put in a ghetto in that city.
We lived under primitive and inhuman conditions 3 to 4 strange families in one room until two years later, in September 1941. At this time I was separated from the rest of the family who was shipped to Auschwitz Concentration camp and murdered.
I was sent to a forced labor camp that later changed into a concentration camp, located in Parshnitz, near Trutnow, Chechoslovakia.I have been put to work at a textile factory on the night shift. I had to watch four high speed automatic weaving looms. There were always threads breaking and I had to run all night from one loom to another,and keep splicing the threads and keep the looms running. The material we were weaving was for German army uniforms and it was of such poor quality that’s why it was constantly breaking. Sometimes I could not keep up with the breakage,and I was accused of sabotage. The female SS guards who watched us gave us severe beatings in such cases.
Then things got bad for the Nazis and no material for uniforms was arriving at the factory. I was sent out on a construction site where all the women prisoners were building a railroad line. One day, while I was on top of a rail flatcar,unloading rails used in the construction, the car was accidentally hit by a moving railroad engine. I was thrown off the car to the ground below and seriously injured my arm and legs, as did other women who also were on that car. One woman was killed in that freak accident
We were hungry all the time,and people were dying all the time, from starvation or sickness. We had lice on our clothes and bodies. We had no water available to launder our soiled clothes, and we had only what we had on our backs. In winter, in order to find a little warmth, we used dirty paper cement bags,which we put under our shirts and pants, to keep out the icy wind.
In the spring of 1945 the camp was surrounded by Russian soldiers and the SS guards surrendered or ran away. Hundreds of ill and starving women were taken to a hospital. The male SS guards were shot by Russian soldiers and the female guards had to bury the dead prisoners,who were lying all over the camp.
After two months in the hospital I recovered from typhoid fever and starvation. I went to search after my family. I found my brother who spent the war in a male concentration camp. No one else of my family survived.
Robert Matzner was 12 years old when the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939. They took all the adult men, including Robert's father, for work details and labor camps as they swept through the country. Robert and his mother stayed in their home until 1942, doing the best they could to survive in a time when Jewish people were not allowed to work. Then the Germans emptied the country of Jews, separating 13-year-old Robert from his mother. He was sent, along with other able-bodied youths, to a labor camp. His mother and the rest of women were taken to Auschwitz. The concentration camp was only about a 30-minute drive from Robert's hometown.
At his first labor camp, Robert helped build Germany's Autobahn. He never saw any of his relatives again.
"We didn't know what happened to our parents or anything. Wherever we were needed, they took us. We were slave labor."
All told, Robert labored for five years in six camps, including one charged with laying railroad tracks needed to transport Nazi armaments around the country.
In his last camp, the war was coming to an end in Europe and the Russian forces were approaching. When they were about two days away, according to the prisoners' guesses, the Nazis decided to evacuate the camp and move all their prisoners with them.
They made everyone march instead of leaving them there, "So we wouldn't be liberated. It was an excuse for them—they were retreating already."
They walked for three days across Germany with no provisions and ended up at Buchenwald. It was March, the prisoners were sparsely dressed for the weather, and they were forced to go about 20 miles per day.
"There was no food, no water, no anything. Whoever couldn't walk, had no more strength to walk, they shot them."
When they arrived at Buchenwald, they found it immensely overcrowded because all the retreating Nazi forces from all over the area retreated there, bringing their prisoners with them.
They were there for two days, and Robert ended up sleeping in the bombed-out ruins of an aircraft factory next to the camp. It was two more days with no food and no water.
After the two days, Nazis caught wind that the Americans were coming toward them from a different direction, and evacuated again. "They called it the death march from then on."
In groups of 1,000, the prisoners were marched on foot to Bavaria, in the middle of Germany, in the hopes the Allies weren't far enough inland to reach them.
"Each group of 1,000 went in that direction. They had dogs along with them, specially trained dogs. This was wholesale killing, I would say. People were not able to walk anymore and they were shot."
"I still walked and walked. Three days I made it with them. My feet were frozen and swollen, I couldn't walk anymore. I figured this was the end. People who couldn't walk just laid down and waited for the bullet. It was, if you had a choice, a better choice than continuing to walk."
On the third day, the whole group stopped to rest in an open field. It was April and the field was covered with snow. Robert remembers that the surviving prisoners just fell down where they stopped, piling up on top of each other to keep warm. The Germans built fires for themselves, but the prisoners were on their own.
At the end of the following day, the prisoners spent the night in a big barn. There were only about 300 people left alive, and they were ushered into the barn where most people dropped to the floor as soon as they entered. Before entering the barn, he overheard a local man telling the guard that the U.S. forces were approaching.
"When I walked in there, I noticed haylofts with bales of hay." There was no ladder to get up to the lofts and no steps, but there were support posts holding the loft up. The guards turned off the lights and the prisoners were left in complete darkness.
"The only way I could ever survive this march would be to hide in this barn and wait for the U.S. Army to enter the village. It was a question of life or death for me right there. I knew if I lived to walk one more day, I was absolutely not able to continue marching anymore and would be shot."
In his desperation, Robert was able to summon a little more strength and shimmy up the pole to reach the hayloft. "I guess it was a miracle. I climbed up the pole and reached the top floor. People under stress do a lot of things you don't expect people to do."
After he reached the loft, he rested a long time, then started feeling in the dark for the bales of hay he had noticed earlier.
"I found the bales and dug into one of them. I buried myself into this bale. I just waited."
In the morning, the guards awoke the prisoners by shouting and firing their guns into the barn.
"People were getting hit. The SS Guards started to scream at people to come out, people who could went out. When no one else came out, at least a hundred people were still inside. Some died during the night, and some were alive but unable to walk out. Then they brought the dogs in to chase out anyone still living. I'm right on top above all of it. I can hear all this commotion. I have nothing to lose—I know if they find me they'll shoot me too. There was no ladder, no steps, the Germans didn't realize anybody would be up there. I heard all this commotion, the shooting and people screaming while they're dying, the dogs barking. For years, these things were in my dreams. It was hell, really."
When the Nazis were ready to leave, they took everyone — living and dead — with them, leaving Robert alone inside the bale of hay.
"American forces were approaching. The German guards knew they'd be shot if they were caught. They're trying to go as fast as they could. The good guys were coming, I knew that. I thought if I can make it now, I might have a chance to survive. I stayed there all day. I was afraid to come out. German civilians lived there. I was afraid they would take me, call the SS guards and hand me over to them. It would mean instant death.
"I stayed in the bale all day and night. The following day, I dug out. I was trying to figure out (what I was going to do) up there, when the door opens and the farm lady comes in. She sees me standing there on top of the hayloft. She starts screaming. She got scared of me. I don't blame her. We were outlaws—that's what (the Nazis) were telling them."
The woman ran out to tell her family, and very soon her husband and another farmer carrying pitchforks came in. Robert crawled back into his hay bale, but the Germans produced a ladder, climbed up to the loft and began stabbing the hay bales, looking for him.
"I didn't wanted to get stabbed, so I surrendered." They took Robert into the farmyard, which was right along a highway. The road was filled with Nazi troops who were retreating from the U.S. forces. The farmers refused to give Robert any food, and one of them hailed three passing Nazi soldiers and handed Robert over to them.
"I thought that was the end. Three German soldiers and me, walking together. We joined the retreat.
"One German says 'Let's kill him.' Another one says 'Save your bullet—you may need it."'
On their way, they passed by German soldiers hanged by the neck from trees, wearing signs declaring them deserters.
All along, Robert expected a bullet to find him at any time. But the Nazi soldiers couldn't do it without a direct order.
"They stopped an officer (and asked) what they were supposed to do with me. All they have to do is pull the trigger. They wanted to have someone tell them to do it."
Instead that officer told them to take Robert to the train station in a little town called Hof, two miles away, where Nazi forces were all heading. They were expecting rail transportation to escape the approaching Allies, but when they arrived they found the train station in flames, the railroad tracks bombed to pieces and German civilians looting.
"There was no authority there. No trains were running. Bomb craters were everywhere. These three German soldiers were debating what to do and I just stepped aside and began mingling with the crowds. The soldiers could not shoot at me, with all the crowds of German civilians.
"The German army was just standing around scratching their heads. The Army had been ordered to leave for this station. I moved over to a different group of looters and kept walking with them. German refugees and the soldiers were stuck there from the air
raids. A big part of the German forces were trapped there. My desire was to get lost in this crowd and that's what I did."
After eight days on the move with no food and a failed escape attempt, Robert simply walked away from his fate. He ended up hiding inside a rail car.
"Hundreds of suitcases were laying around all over there because of the explosion—the baggage cars were bombed. I looked through the suitcases and found civilian clothing that fit and shoes. I was a civilian from then on.
"The next morning, I heard shooting, I saw everyone running, I'm hiding in a railroad car. I looked out to see Germans leaving the railroad station and different soldiers taking over. I see they had different uniforms, I knew they were not German. I move out and put my hands up. I look like a German. An American soldier approaches, rifle in hand. I said I am a prisoner. I tried to make him understand. A U.S. sergeant comes up, he spoke Polish to me, he tells me he is from Chicago. He let me go."
The Americans chased away the German civilians who had been loitering and looting, and the German soldiers surrendered. Robert had nowhere to go, and the Americans allowed him to stay in the train station.
There were 24 U.S. soldiers in the outfit, assigned to guard the train station.
"They let me stay there for a whole week. We got to be friends. They gave me food. I remember they brought turkey to me one day. They were giving me whatever they had. I was a young kid. A skeleton. I will never forget it, never. It was the first human reaction somebody really gave me after five years."
After so long without food, Robert's body reacted violently to sudden nourishment. He was also exhausted physically and mentally, and slept most of the time. The Americans mostly left him alone and let him recover a little.
"You can't describe it to people who didn't go through it. You try to make them understand, but...
A different unit was coming to repair the station and the Americans who saved Robert's life were pulled out. He went into town, to Hof, and registered with civilian German authorities. In Europe at the time, anyone who moved to a new town had to register there to be recognized as a resident. The mayor, police and other authorities then were put into place by American forces, so Robert didn't have to hide his nationality anymore. He registered as a Pole and was assigned a room and given ration cards for food. He was assigned a room in a hotel used temporarily to house displaced persons and got roommates.
"We were all recovering. This is how I survived."
Robert ended up working for the United Nations in a supply depot that received food and supplies destined for the displaced persons camps, stored them and distributed them to the various refugee camps that were established in the aftermath of the war.
Robert kept that job and stayed in Hof from 1945 to 1950, when he decided to come to the United States.
"There was no home for me to go back to. I didn't want to go back. I have a soft spot for this country. I figure they were good to me and I belong here."
Before he left Hof, he married Lucille, a girl he knew as a child and miraculously found after the war was over. Their first son, Richard, was a baby when they came to America, and they had two more children after they settled in Sheboygan.
Robert remembers his first glimpse of his adopted country, when he saw the Statue of Liberty from the ship that was carrying him to the United States.
"This lady up there, she looked really nice. Everyone went on deck. It was like a dream."
Robert has lived now 53 years in Sheboygan. He worked, raised his family and retired here. Looking back at his experience in his youth, he still is unable to grasp the idea that he survived this ordeal while thousands of prisoners all around him did not. He and his family were very happy to live in Sheboygan and in the United States, his adopted country. Robert died on Aug. 23, 2016.
"We are proud to be U.S. citizens and to call this our homeland."
A special program during the regular service was held to commemorate the Holocaust. Of special interest was the story told by Robert Matzner. His story follows: It is fitting for us to remember the Holocaust by observing this special day and also remembering throughout the year.
Yom Hashoah, Remembering the Holocaust
By Robert Matzner
When I think back to the time of the Holocaust, this is what comes to mind: A column of one thousand Jews, prisoner of Nazis, marching out of the concentration camp Buchenwald.
They are forced to leave, because in the distance there is faint rumble of artillery fire. American forces are advancing steadily in this direction. The SS guards, afraid to be taken prisoners and punished, are pulling out and are taking the Jews along to deny them their liberation.
The month is April, just like now, but the year is 1945, and among that group of cold, ill, and hungry people is an eighteen year old boy. The prisoners, weak from starvation are not good at marching. They are slow. The guards use whips, rifle butts and curses to make them walk faster. Some men stumble, fall to the ground and are shot in the head. Others who are not able to keep up with the rest of the column, are also shot. Now the guards sic the dogs on them.
The large police dogs leap at the prisoners. They sink their teeth in a man's leg and he falls to the ground, badly hurt. Unable to get up, he is shot..The death march continues. In the evening they are ordered to lay down in a farm field. It is covered with snow and they spend the night huddled close together, to keep warm.
The next day at dawn, the deadly march continues. The young boy is marching on. He scoops up a handful of snow from the ground and eats it, to stop the terrible thirst. He and the rest had no food or drink since they left the camp. On the third day of the march, the column is much smaller. Many men were shot, unable to keep up. Men who are too weak to walk, simply give up. They drop to the ground and wait for the bullet. It is a swift way to end the suffering.
Day four. The young boy is by now completely exhausted. His shoes have wooden soles and his feet are swollen and raw. Every step is painful and he has trouble to keep up with the group. He knows his end is very near, but he stubbornly keeps going as well as he can. That evening the column reaches a small village and they stop in front of a barn. By now, out of thousand men who left Buchenwald, about 400 remain. They are ordered to enter the barn for the night.
The SS guards lock the gates and turn off the lights in the barn, leaving 400 men stumbling around in the dark, trampling the weak and the ones who were resting on the floor. There are no toilets, and people "go" wherever they are standing or lying.
Before the light goes out, the young boy notices a hayloft on the opposite side of the huge barn and many bales of hay on the top. In the darkness, he crawls over the bodies of the sleeping people, until he is underneath the hayloft. He is searching for a way to get up there to hide, but he can not find a ladder or stairs. All he sees are wooden poles, the size of telephone poles supporting the floor above him.
After a few unsuccessful attempts, he manages to climb up the pole and he reaches the top of the loft. He must rest for a while, very weak from this feat. He was not sure he could pull it off, in his present weak condition.
Dawn is approaching and the boy realizes he does not have much time left. He crawls to the back wall and digs a deep hole in the hay, then he crawls inside the hole and covers himself up. He is aware if he is discovered, he will be shot right away, but if he continues to march next day, he has not enough strength to do it, and he also will be shot.
When dawn breaks, the barn gates are opened and the prisoners are ordered to come out in the farm yard. When nobody comes out anymore, the SS guards walk inside, accompanied by the dogs. They find many men lying on the barn floor. Some died during the night, some are too ill to get up. The boy can hear very well, what takes place ten feet below him.
He hears the barking of the dogs, the gun shots, the screams of the dying men, then it is quiet...The death march continues, but the young man is not discovered. With no access to the loft, the dogs and the guards are not able to search it. The boy remains hidden throughout the following day. He is afraid in the event of being discovered by the farmer, he will be returned to the death march and killed. One the second day in hiding, the boy decides to come out. He slides down the pole and he is captured by the farmer. By now the SS guards are too far away and the farmer calls on some passing German Soldiers and he hands the boy over to them.
The soldiers escort him to a nearby town and to a train station. At this point the German Army is retreating and hundreds of soldiers and civilians are milling all over the station, trying to escape by train before the closing in American forces.
The chaos is maddening in the crowded station. The young man acts fast. A large group of civilians is standing in front of him. He takes a big step, and mingles with the crowd. The soldier escorting him is taken by surprise and unable to use the gun with all the people around.
The young man is free. He spends all day and all night among the crowd. The following day, American forces enter the town and he is finally liberated.
By now you probably guessed. I was the young man I just told you about.