Max Mannheimer, experiences in the Netherlands, Theresienstadt and Auschwitz, 1933–1945
JEWISH CENTRAL INFORMATION OFFICE
19 Manchester Square,London, W. 1
Jewish Survivors Report
Documents of Nazi Guilt
Theresienstadt and From Theresienstadt to Auschwitz b y
Max E. Mannheimer
This is the third of a series of personal reports received by the JEWISH CENTRAL INFORMATION OFFICE from eye-witnesses of the persecution of Jews under Nazi rule.
I was living in Amsterdam when the Germans occupied Holland. My parents are German Jews who had settled in Holland many years before 1933. I attended a Dutch school, passed the Higher School Examination, and became a senior band clerk later. I am 27 years of age and Stateless.
Till May 1943 I was on the staff of the Joodsche Raad in Amsterdam as a voluntary social worker. Before the occupation I had taken part in the welfare work of the Committee Voor Byzondere Joodsche Belangen.
From Westerbork to Theresienstadt. In May 1943 I was to be arrested and had to
go underground. I lived in the Hague till December 1943, when I was caught by the Gestapo. A certain
Kaptein, an SS man in mufti and a member of the Dutch
Windekind, Hague, questioned me for three hours, beat and ill-treated me so severely
that when transported to the Dutch
camp of Westerbork I had to be taken to the camp
hospital. For seven weeks I was treated there for muscular inflammation, a
consequence of the ill-treatment. Conditions in Westerbork were known to me because I had often been sent there by the
Raad. I had seen many trains
loaded with deportees, dispatched for the East.
People generally left Westerbork calmly, sometimes even singing, because they were hoping to reach
the place of their final settlement. Many preferred certainty about their future
destination, which they hoped to find in the eastern camps, to the constant strain of
suspense which hang1Note 1 :
Text blurred over them in Westerbork.
Neither myself nor the 1800 people who were detailed for transfer to Theresienstadt on the 25th Feb. 1944 were
frightened when we heard about the deportation order. The name Theresienstadt, the model camp of the Nazis, did not imply horror. It was
considered a special favour to be permitted to live in Theresienstadt. Ex-Servicemen of the first World War,
with the Iron Cross, First Class, or the badge for wounded, descendants of mixed
marriages, but of Jewish religion, baptised
Jews, those whose names were on the so-called
List – some hundred Dutch Jews sho had rendered special service to
Holland – people who had made some outstanding contribution to German life, and some persons
whom the Nazi authorities or the Commandant in Westerbork selected, - these were the favoured classes who were allowed to go
We 1800, among us babies and old people, were loaded into ordinary trains not into goods trains. We took this as a good sign, that the place of our destination was really Theresienstadt and not one of the ominous camps. We were allowed to take our luggage with us, and received jam, margarine and one loaf of bread for three persons. The compartments were locked. Members of the German Security Police (Gruene Polizei) accompanied the train which, after a journey of three days and two nights, arrived in Theresienstadt. We were received by SS officers and Czech police – we did not see any SS privates – and taken to barracks where we had to register. The officials who took down our particulars were members of the Jewish Self-Administration. Doctors belonging to the same body vaccinated us. We were searched by the police, our luggage was examined, whereupon the SS officers and the police disappeared. We were left to ourselves, Jews amongst Jews, herded into a Ghetto of which we had only known from history books, as an institution of bygone times.
The Ghetto Theresienstadt (Terezin) is an old fortress town lying on both sides of the River Eger, 61 kms. from Prague, at the frontier of the former Protectorate and the Sudetenland. It had about 7,000 inhabitants mostly Czechs, when it was established as a ghetto for the complete isolation, first of the Czech Jews, and later for other European Jews as well.
The 7,000 non- Jewish inhabitants of the town had been evacuated X. The barracks of the fortress formerly used for the Austrian Military and for Political prisoners – among them Principe who assassinated the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in 1914 and died in the damp dungeons of Terezin – and the small houses of the town were all occupied by Jews; only the church was excluded and was locked up.
These barracks and houses were situated in the so-called Grosse Festung (Big Fortress), the ghetto proper, a minor part of which was reserved for the SS. There, in the Sudeten Kaserne, the SS kept the files of their records. The big fortress is surrounded by walls, the gates of which were guarded by Czech police. Though it was not easy to escape from that prison town it was not impossible, provided the people who dared the attempt spoke the vernacular. Some Czech Jews while on work outside the ghetto succeeded in fleeing. As punishment for this escape Jakob Edelstein, the first "elder" of the Jews (Judeneltester) was dismissed from his post and sent to Auschwitz.
On the far side of the Eger lies the small fortress (Kleine Festung), a concentration camp for people from Czecho-Slovakia and Theresienstadt. The women of Lidice, for example, were held there.
The accommodation of the Grosse Festung was enlarged by some wooden huts, built by the Jewish inmates. Men and women lived separated from each other in the barracks. Some were men's quarters, others women's quarters. Family life was impossible, but people could see each other after day's work was done.
The space allotted to each person was not more than about 4 ft. 5 ins. just enough to lie down, but in this small space one was supposed to eat, wash and sleep, and to live. Bedsteads, or rather wooden bunks, were placed in three tiers. People slept on straw-filled sacks, straw mattresses – rugs were not provided. Everybody had to provide a rug or cover for himself. All the barracks were bug-infested.
In the small private houses, which might more correctly be called slum quarters, no furniture was left, and the same small space was detailed to the inmates.
We had dim electric light. Sanitation was most primitive.
For about 5,000 people, the officials of the administration and some persons who, on German orders, had to receive preferential treatment, a little more space – about 5 ft. X 5 ft. – was allocated. During the last month of my stay in Theresienstadt I shared a room of about 12 ft. X 12 ft. with four members of my family, my wife and my mother amongst them.
In Feb. 1944 about 38000 Jews were confined in Theresienstadt, the majority of them Czechs, 2,800 Dutch, 300 Danes, the rest German and Austrian Jews; later a few French Jews were brought to the ghetto, amongst them Monsieur Meyer, the former Mayor of Le Havre.
X Compare the ordinance published in the
Verordnungsblatt des Reichsprotektors f.
Boehmen und Maehren of the 28th Feb. 1942, according to
which all Jews in the Protectorate are to be concentrated at Theresienstadt.
According to this decree the complete isolation had been proved necessary in order to prevent whispering propaganda and subversive activities, chiefly emanating from Jews.
XX The cattle of Lidice had been brought to Theresienstadt, and were looked after by the Theresienstadt Jews. Young Jews from Theresienstadt were taken to Lidice by the SS to dig the graves for the murdered Lidice population.
Sixty-eight Thousand People Crowded into a Town Meant for Seven Thousand.
At one time the ghetto had to accommodate up to 68,000 inhabitants. The number had decreased by deportation and death. About 150,000 people were said to have passed through that show camp of the Nazis.
Jewish Self-Administration. The town was administered entirely by Jews. At the head of the administration was Dr. Paul Epstein from Berlin, a former member of the Board of the Reichsvereinigung der Juden in Deutschland and a lecturer on economics in Mannheim. He was assisted by the Czech civil engineers, Murmelstein and Zucker, the latter subsequently put to death in Auschwitz. Dr. Epstein was deported later to the East and never heard of again.
The administrators were assisted by the so-called
Aeltestenrat (Council of
Elders) the most prominent member of which was Dr. Leo Baeck, the venerated Rabbi
from Berlin, a
personality of almost prophetic stature.
Life in the ghetto was organised by the different departments of the administration, the economic department – food distribution and production – the housing department (Raumwirtschaft) and the health department.
The economic department was responsible for the distribution of food which they got from SS Headquarters in Prague. The Jews in Theresienstadt were maintained by Jewish funds i.e. by assets confiscated from Czech Jews. The economic department had also to organise work, which was obligatory for everyone except the very old and very sick, and the children.
People were employed in the timber yard, the joinery and the plumbers shop, working for the maintenance of the camp. There were also work-shops with people engaged in the production of ink powder, the manufacture of leather goods, artistic handicraft (necklaces etc.), mica and of uniforms and mackintoshes for the German Wehrmacht. Before my arrival wooden cases were also manufactured.
Young people had to do agricultural work outside Theresienstadt, either on farms or on estates confiscated by the German authorities. This kind of work was very popular among the younger inmates of the camp, because there they had a chance of getting some additional food to their meagre diet.
Repair shops for clothing and shoes, and watch-makers’ shops supplemented this
organisation of a Jewish
The economic department was supervised by Mr. Freiberger, the central department which had to detail labour was led by Dr. Oestereicher and Mr. Weinberger, a Czech civil engineer.
The housing department responsible for the distribution of living, or rather sleeping accommodation, was administered by Dr. Loewinger, Dr. Braun and Mr. Rindler.
Hospitals. Nearly one quarter of the available space of the ghetto
was reserved for hospitals or homes for aged
people. As a matter of fact the Nazis had declared the town a
Home for Aged People (Jeudisches Reichsaltersheim), but with the growing transports, people of different ages, even babies, arrived in Theresienstadt. In the barracks converted to hospitals there were real bedsteads. The doctors, many of them from Czecho-Slovakia, had
modern medical instruments at their disposal. Dentists, chemists, nurses and opticians were
also on the staff of the health department, which was also in charge of the bath-house too,
attached to one of the hospitals. The work of the doctors
and their staff was beyond praise. They did everything in their power to alleviate the lot
of their patients. The Jewish self-administration, with the help of the medical
staff, even provided a diet kitchen and a special kitchen for children, working independently of the five or six central kitchens in the
Mortality Rate. Finally the crematorium has to be mentioned, which had been built after the mortality rate had become very high. Before 1944, at the time when the place was inhabited by up to 68,000, about 130 people died daily. When I arrived in Feb. 1944 the death rate was about 30 a day, and decreased later to 10. The reason was obvious. The old people had died or had been deported, the remaining ones had accustomed themselves to the meagre diet and were thus able to endure the hardships. It cannot be doubted that under-nourishment had been the chief cause of death of the many old Jews who found their grave in Theresienstadt. At the time when the settlement was started the dead were buried; afterwards they were cremated and the urns kept in a more or less honoured place.
Starvation Diet. The diet was absolutely insufficient. The SS allocated to the Jewish self-administration provisions calculated on the basis of an inadequate daily ration. But even so, the self-administration had had to cut these meagre rations in order to be able to give priority to heavy workers and a special diet to children. It must be pointed out that the food allocation described below, though meagre enough, had been even worse before 1944. At that time many new inmates died not only from under-nourishment but from dysentery or a similar disease.
The rations available on food cards were:
In the morning half a loaf of bread for 3 days, black bread about 750 grms. i.e. 250 grms. daily. Heavy workers received a loaf of 1,000 grms. for three days. – Coffee substitute – 70 grms. sugar, 60 grms. margarine a week. Workers’ ration was – 100 grms. sugar and 80 grms. margarine.
Lunch: Soup consisting of water, salt and barely (0/30 liters) without any nourishment value – 350 grms. potatoes and 0/25 litres of a sauce made from powder sometimes with a little meat, or 0.30 to 0.40 litre vegetables, mostly cabbage. Instead of potatoes occasionally dumplings were served. Sometimes we had barley (0.40 litre). Very seldom the kitchen received lettuce.
Supper: For supper we had a thick barley soup four times a week, and twice a week a drink of coffee substitute.
Heavy Workers received 50% of the described diet in addition.
The food was well cooked and our cooks did everything to serve a tasty meal. "Buchten" (yeast dumplings) served once a week with coffee and sugar sauce were specially popular. Very occasionally the Red Cross supplied little cheeses or liver paste.
All in all, these rations provided nothing but a starvation diet. During the first three months of my stay in Theresienstadt I was hardly able to sleep at nights. I could think of nothing but food, I even dreamt of food when I managed to fall asleep. At that time I was hungrier than later in Auschwitz, or in the Gleiwitz camp. When working in the office of the administration I could only concentrate my mind for the first two or three hours, and later failed to do sums. Naturally everybody lost weight rapidly.
X A letter from a former member of a Jewish Women’s Organisation in Berlin, who was released from Theresienstadt in February 1945, states that the urns were removed by the SS one day. Nobody knows what happened to them.
Children between 4 and 16 received a better and more sufficient diet, extra milk, skimmed cream cheese and some of the food the Red Cross provided. Although babies were given milk, that milk was skimmed and of low nutritive value. Fresh vegetables, except cabbage, and any kind of fruit were completely lacking, although the surrounding country was very rich in fruit, especially apples.
Those who received parcels from the Joint could consider themselves lucky, but many of the addressees were dead or deported at the time of the arrival of this help. The contents of the undeliverable parcels were given to relatives of the addressees, or to the hospitals.
Communal Life. Such were the basic conditions on which the Jews had to build their communal life in the ghetto. There was no lack of intellectuals who were able and willing to give lectures. I attended excellent lectures by Dr. Baeck and Prof. Brahn, the well-known philosopher, and Nietzsche scholar, who, as I have been told, died in Auschwitz after deportation. I myself lectured on British education in the so-called English Club, an unofficial gathering of people who tried to brush up their English.
Musicians. organised concerts, and even little opera performances conducted by two Czech Jews, Klein and
Schechter (Dr. Kurt Singer, the Berlin conductor and leader
Kulturbund der Juden in Deutschland, had died
just before my arrival in Theresienstadt). There were also theatre
performances given by Czech
actors. Plays were produced in the little cinema of Terezin and in the barracks.
The ghetto cafe served lemonade and coffee substitute, but a piece of cake or a bun so much longed for was not available on the tariff of this show cafe.
Dancing was officially not permitted, but some people nevertheless danced,
Neither was school education allowed. We had many children who were not able to read or write.
Potemkin Village. But in a news reel which was made in order to bluff that part of the
world on whose opinion the Nazis set great store you will find two school buildings. The
news-reel was made when a Commission from
Denmark arrived. Days in advance we had to clean the camp
and to paint the houses. The word
School was put on two buildings, which were to
represent the Girls’ School and the Boys’ School. During the week in which the Commission visited
the model camp, we received three times the ordinary rations. X
X Mr. Ralph Oppenheim, who was one of
the first Jews returned to Denmark after 1½
years’ confinement in Theresienstadt, reports as follows in
about the visit of the Danish
Some weeks before the Commission arrived we were ordered to paint the houses, and we got some Austrian peasant furniture.
Single beds were placed in the huts that were being shown. The day before the Commission arrived
we were summoned before the Commandant, who gave us to understand that should we dare to
tell the Commission about the real conditions all the Danes would be sent eastwards, and at the same time the food
parcels from home would be taken away from us. And we knew that this would be equivalent to
death. All the sick, the war invalids and old people were put into houses which
would not be shown to the Commission. For the
children a kindergarten was arranged in a great hurry. The children were instructed that when the Commandant entered with the Commission, they
must run to meet him and shout
Good-day Uncle Rahm, are
you coming to play with us? and as the party left they were to say
When are you
coming to see us again, Uncle Rahm?
The Commission was tricked. Everyone ought to have been able to scent that the
painting was fresh, that the furniture in our huts had been lately put in and had not been
used. And our eyes ought to have told them the rest – but instead they thought that we were
in good spirits and full of hope.
The whole character of the town was changed by this embellishment by order. Recreation grounds were laid out with large flower-beds, a music tent where the town band gave concert every afternoon was built, a kindergarten with cradles, a slide and a see-saw was established, as well as a laundry. Even a restaurant was opened where one could eat one's meals on one's ration card. The benches erected in the improvised "parks" turned out to be a blessing for the inmates who, from that time on, could sit down in the open.
In a word, a Potemkin village was put before the eyes of the foreign visitors. Dr. Epstein had to make an exaggerated report about the favourable conditions in Theresienstadt to the delegation. He was sure, as he told us, that the members of the Commission would realise the bluff the Nazis were putting up, but apparently the Commission allowed themselves to be deceived.
Reproduction Prohibited. Dr. Epstein had to mention the high birth rate in the ghetto,
while in fact reproduction was prohibited. Women when entering the camp
were warned that they had to undergo abortion during the first four months of their
pregnancy. Nevertheless there were about 150 babies
born in the camp,
black babies as we used to call them, babies
born in spite of the prohibition.
Religious Services. Services were held by Dr. Baeck and other Rabbis. I venture to say that, in spite of the hardships we had to undergo in the ghetto, and the even more severe conditions which we inmates had experienced before, people had not become more deeply attached to religion than they had generally been.
Jewish Police and Jewish Court.
Order was kept by the Community Guard
(Gemeindewache), formerly called
Wache, which, like every other institution in the ghetto,
consisted of Jews. There was also a Jewish
Court before which marriages could be registered according to Jewish law. In addition the Court
acted in Penal cases e.g. thefts. It had to send its sentences to the SS for
confirmation. Prison sentences were executed in the Theresienstadt
prison. Only in one case did the SS demand heavier
punishment than the Court had pronounced. The SS. Sent the
defendant who had committed theft of provisions to the concentration
camp in the small fortress.
Otherwise the SS. did not interfere with camp life, at least according to the experience of the ordinary inmate. We did not see any SS men apart from the Commandant who occasionally rode on horseback through the ghetto streets. The camp administration, however, had to work under the daily threat of their SS supervisors.
Camp Currency. The official currency of the ghetto was the so-called Ghetto Krone, a specially designed camp currency which the ghetto bank circulated. Camp workers earned up to 100 Ghetto Crowns a month. For this one could buy provisions such as mustard, carraway-seeds, a kind of Oxo, but also theatre tickets and coupons on which the cafe sold lemonade and coffee. Old clothing, shoes and travelling cases left by the deportees or the deceased, were also sold for Ghetto Crowns provided one had the necessary points, which were issued.
But things badly needed, such as additional food or
cigarettes, were not available for camp
treasures like these one had to pay in Reichsmarks or Czech Crowns. On the Black
Market, which, owing to the starvation diet and the complete lack of tobacco, had developed of necessity as in
camp, one could buy a loaf for 15 Marks or a cigarette for 4.50 Marks (5/-). These
cigarettes were smuggled into the camp by
people working outside the ghetto
walls, in some cases by SS men themselves,
who made tremendous profits from this illegal traffic. On the other hand SS parties raided
the camp in order to find out people possessing currency i.e. Reichsmarks or Czech Crowns, gold or jewellery.
Anybody caught in possession of State currency was sent to the concentration
camp in the small fortress from which nearly every week transports went to the notorious Auschwitz
Relations between the inmates were better than in Westerbork nor in Auschwitz. People were not as nervous as they were in the more notorious camps. In a concentration camp everyone considers his neighbour an enemy who might jeopardise one's own chance of survival. In Theresienstadt your neighbour was not exactly your friend, but at least a neutral person. I have only noticed some tension and state of irritation arising in the relations of married couples owing to the separation.
Humanity True to Nazi Pattern. Such was life in the show camp the Nazis had deliberately organised to provide an alibi for themselves. Was it not an example of humanity to set up a kindergarten, to permit Jews to go to a cafe or to listen to a music band?
Humane indeed, if you call it humane to deprive decent, innocent people arbitrarily of their freedom, to strip them of everything but the clothes they had on, to feed them on a diet which enables only the strong to survive, to isolate ordinary people and some who had won world fame, completely from the outer world, behind guarded ghetto walls, sealed off from life.
All the time I could not help imagining that we were interred in a mass
grave in which people were dancing. People danced, attended theatres or concerts in order to escape the constant nightmare haunting the
minds of all of us: the threat of further deportation to the East. Parents hoping to survive
the Nazi way against the Jews together with their children were separated from each other. Old brothers and sisters who had been
reunited in the ghetto had had to part again. A sister who was
only 64 years
of age had had to go first, leaving her brothers or sisters behind her, who were fortunate
enough to be in their seventies. But even very old age was no protection against the fate of
being selected for the next transport, for the train,
destination unknown. Thus was the humanity administered in the model camp
true to Nazi character.
There was of course a difference between Theresienstadt and the Eastern camps. In Theresienstadt those at least who were permitted to stay there, were allowed to die slowly. In the East the death sentence never expressly pronounced was carried out immediately on arrival.
Transports to the East. Work detachments had left Theresienstadt before my arrival and continued to leave the ghetto
from time to time. They did not go to the East, but were sent to Germany
to build barracks and huts for the SS e.g. in
skilled workers, young men in good health, were detailed for this kind of work.
They still belonged to the so-called
Theresienstadt (Work Detachment), and were brought back to the ghetto
when sick or disabled.
But on the 11th May 1944 a different kind of transport was ordered. The
Hamburger barracks were cleared and there the people selected for this transport had to assemble. The Jewish self-administration had the heart-breaking task of choosing the victims according
to general orders of the SS. Some deportees were named by special instructions from the SS. On the 18th May 1944 7,000 men,
women and children left Theresienstadt for Auschwitz, transported in good wagons,
and under the guard of SS and Security Police. Goods wagons
........ these were evil forebodings. In September 1944 I met
one person, who had left with that transport, in Auschwitz, just one ........
In spite of the uncertainty, or rather the certainty of their future fate, men, women, children and sick people left Theresienstadt composedly.
On the 20th September 1944 a second transport was announced, this time a work detachment for Germany. Neither sick people nor women were selected, only able-bodied men of military age. It first seemed as if there were some truth in the alleged purpose of that transport, work in Germany. When I , who had to join this party of 2,500 men, saw goods wagons I did not feel at ease. On the 26th September 1944 the train left Theresienstadt. Near Dresden the SS guards asked us to write a post card to our wives. We were to tell them that we had arrived at our destination, that food and accommodation were good and work was not too heavy. We were to invite our wives to follow us as soon as possible. This
trick was obvious. By this bait the SS wanted to entice
our wives to join us without arousing any suspicion about the destination of the next
transport. Although they had the power to force everybody into a death
train they employed diabolical methods like these to deceive people about their
fate in order to avoid irritation and disturbances in the
model camp. Perhaps another commission might arrive in Theresienstadt and notice the change in the mental atmosphere of the inmates. The same method was employed on many occasions all over the eastern camps.
That accounts for the numerous messages relatives received describing favourable conditions
in the east.
The Hangman. After a journey of three days and two nights the train arrived at a railway siding on 29th September 1944. It was dark, about 9 p.m., but though we could not see the name of the station we guessed we were in the notorious Oswiecim (Auschwitz) camp. We were dragged out of the wagons by prisoners and not allowed to take our luggage with us. It was looted afterwards, and even the small rations we had were stolen by the old camp inmates.
We were formed into files and had to pass an SS officer – most probably an SS doctor. He sat on a chair, three yards away from us, with legs outstretched in a half ??2Note 2 : Text unclear position, almost motionless. The only part of his body which he moved was the thumb of his right hand. With this he pointed either to the left or to the right as a man stood in front of him. He did not utter a single word. We had been ordered to answer three questions: What age, what occupation, in what state of health. I answered: 27 – metal worker – fit. The SS officer thumbed me to the right.
After this sorting of human beings 1600 men
found themselves on the right, 900 on the left. Not everybody had declared himself fit. Was
this not after all a working detachment? The very word seemed to indicate that there were
different kinds of work to do, heavy for younger people, and lighter work for elderly
men. Thus some of the parded men may
have explained that they were suffering from complaints preventing them from doing too heavy
work. Others gave themselves away by their grey hair, though the whole detachment
consisted of men of military age. This latter fact explains why so
few were directed to the
left. As I heard afterwards the usual percentage of people selected for annihilation was 85/90%.
While queuing in front of our hangman we saw flames arising from the chimneys of several buildings, and were told by the old timers that these housed the central heating plants of the camp.
During the whole night we had to stand in a stable. Then we had to strip and to give up everything, including our wedding rings, except our belts, spectacles and shoes. We were next led into a bath-house where our heads were shaved and we had to take a shower. We, i.e. the 1600 fortunate ones.
Extermination. The other party, the 900 doomed men, had undergone the same procedure of waiting, stripping and giving up their belongings. They too were led into a bath-house, but instead of steam and water, poison gas was infiltrated into that chamber. All our 900 comrades, with some of whom we had shared the times of anxiety and persecution in Holland, and later the months of respite, hope and again anxiety in Theresienstadt, met their end in the death chambers of Auschwitz on the morning of the 30th Sept. 1944. They had, as one of the Jewish camp doctors told me later, not known up to the last moment, what was in store for them.
Before they entered the gate of death the fate of three of the doomed men changed at the very last moment. Some SS men passing that batch of people being led to the gas chambers picked out three men, maybe because they seemed still fit for work. One of the three thus saved a few minutes before annihilation was Spitz, a civil engineer of about 50. His brother, a Czech Jew, who had been brought to Auschwitz at the same time, had to leave the camp with
a work detachment on the 1st October. He had seen his brother, the engineer, go to the left, selected as one of the 900, and left the camp under the impression that his brother had been asphyxiated with the others. But Spitz, the engineer, was alive at least at the time of my leaving Auschwitz in the middle of October.
Among the selected men were Engineer Zucker, one of Dr. Epstein's colleagues in the Theresienstadt camp administration, an able and distinguished man, and the actors Max Ehrlich and Willy Rosen, Ehrlich conspicuous by his grey hair. X
We stayed in Section E of Auschwitz, the so-called gypsycamp, a quarantine for new arrivals.
Human Guinea-Pigs. There I heard from the Dutch Jewish doctor Sal. De Jong, that the SS doctor Moll, and his SS colleagues, were experimenting on camp inmates. I was told of experiments made with twins and also of vivisection carried out on human beings. A girl from the Auschwitz camp who had hidden there when the Germans evacuated Auschwitz, and whom I met after my escape, told me that these human guinea-pigs were all killed before the evacuation. At that time the gas chambers were no longer working, nor were the crematoria which had been blown up. The victims were therefore thrown into pits and unslaked lime was poured over them. Whether they had been shot before I do not know, but the Jewish camp doctor, Epstein from Prague, who has survived, must be able to furnish further information. XX
In Auschwitz everybody was more than keen on being transferred to a camp in which conditions were supposed to be somewhat bearable. In the opinion of
X Willy Rosen was well known as a writer and composer of popular airs, which were sung and whistled all over Germany.
Max Ehrlich, a highly educated actor
and a book-collector3Note 3 :
Text blurred, was up to 1933 one of the most popular comedians in Berlin, a star of the
Admiralspalast shows. In 1933, when he was banned from appearing
before German audiences, he
Judische Kulturbund. His fine performances in comedies, and his cabaret
shows, were gratefully applauded by the Jewish public whose minds Ehrlich distracted from the daily humiliations. A few days after the November
pogrom of 1938 had been staged by the Nazis, thousands of
imprisoned and all the Jewish
organisations closed down by the Gestapo, the Nazi
supervisor of the Kulturbund, Hinkel,
ordered the re-opening of the Kulturbund and forced Ehrlich to present a cabaret
show. The world reacting with disgust to the pogrom
was told by the Nazi Press that the Jews could even enjoy cabaret
shows, and the reports in the foreign press were nothing but atrocity stories. This November performance on Gestapo orders was
to become a symbol of Ehrlich's future fate:
a comedian who had to smile and make people laugh by the order of his mortal enemy. In 1939
emigrated to Holland
where he opened a cabaret together with Camilla
Spira and Kurt Gerron. After the occupation of Holland
Ehrlich was taken to the Westerbork
camp and again, on the Commandant’s order, had to cheer up the people in this
vast waiting-room for the train into limbo. (See no. 2. of our Series
of Jews in Holland). In Theresienstadt, where he was taken from Westerbork, he could not continue this
work, because he was only there
for a fortnight. This true Pagliacci fate ended in the extermination
chambers of Auschwitz.
XX He has already given evidence to the Russian Authorities.
the Auschwitz candidates for death,
Belsen, Buchenwald and Dachau were considered to be
gute K.Z.s (good concentration camps); dreaded camps
were, besides Auschwitz, Mauthausen and the forest camp
Most of our rations were embezzled by the
Capos and block
elders (overseers and prisoners themselves) who sold their loot in the Black
Market. Black marketeering flourished in a camp
where, owing to the daily presence of death –
meanwhile we had learned the real meaning of the fires rising from the
plant – all normal moral restrictions had ceased. The Capos,
mostly non-Jewish criminals, among them many homo-sexuals and brutes, sold gold fillings extracted from the teeth of the gassed
victims, and especially valuables or currency, looted from the luggage of the new
arrivals. The members of the so-called Canada
detachment employed in searching the luggage and clothing of the newcomers, plundered them and enriched themselves grossly. A
diamond brooch found in a jam jar, in which a deportee had tried to save his last treasure,
fetched 40,000 Marks. That sum enabled the black
marketeer who sold it to buy food
and tobacco for just one month.
Gleiwitz. Registration only took place when prisoners were detailed for work. In exchange for their name they got a number which was tattooed on the arm. My number was B12749. The registers kept in the political department of Auschwitz were burned when the Nazis retreated in Jan. 1945. I should like to point out that the deportees who were gassed immediately on arrival were not registered at all. They were destroyed like vermin, nameless victims, leaving no trace behind them.
In the middle of Oct. 1944, after being clothed
in prisoner's garments and given wooden boots – usually leather shoes were stolen by
the Capos – I was transferred to the work
III. It belonged to the Concentration Camp
Auschwitz III. We were housed in the yard of a foundry,
& Presswerk, Gleiwitz von Krugstrasse I. There we got our food
and were not allowed to leave the yard, converted into a small concentration
camp and surrounded by electrified barbed wire. We, the new batch of 150 men, found
there 450 old prisoners. We were to assemble gun carriages, which should have been
assembled at the rate of four a day, but owing to the lack of tools, skilled labour and
sabotage which we tried to do wherever we could, it took us six weeks to assemble
the schemed production of two days. We worked under the supervision of a Polish Chief Engineer, while the
camp itself was run by the Lagerfuehrer SS. Oberschar
F. Spicker. In him I found for the first
time in my numerous encounters with members of the SS. a man free from
any sadistic traits. Maybe that the death
of his son, who had been killed
in action shortly before our arrival, had made him realise the value of life. Anyway, none
of the prisoners in Gleiwitz
III was ill-treated, and the twenty odd who died
there succumbed to under-nourishment or died
from accidents and lack of medical attention. When we were evacuated on 18 Jan. 1945
Spicker led our party for two days. We were
marching from Gleiwitz to Cosel, but had to return to
Gleiwitz for unknown reasons. We were guarded by newly formed SS detachments,
conscripted from members of the Wehrmacht. Not a
single man was shot whereas, as I learned later, hundreds of the prisoners in the work
detachment Gleiwitz I
II were shot down and died by
the roadside like hunted animals. I stress this fact purposely because I want to emphasise
that the whole responsibility for the murder
of my poor fellow-prisoners lies with the Commanding SS Officers. Where
no orders to massacre were given, as in the case of Spicker, no one was shot.
We were marched back to Blechhammer on our way to Gleiwitz III. On the 21 Jan. 1945 I noticed that some of the SS Guards of the camp had left their posts, when I was pushed out of the gates by the crowd of fellow-prisoners. Together with a fellow-prisoner, Dr. Eduard Zelderust, I ran away. For some days and nights we remained in the forest near Blechhammer where we heard the roar of the approaching battle. We were happy. There were machine-gun bullets and shell-fire, but we did not feel frightened. Was this only due to our lack of fighting experience? In part it might have been so because we were surprised when we noticed that all civilians around us had suddenly disappeared.
It took us some time to realise that these people had simply thrown themselves down on the ground, in order to take cover, and we followed, of course, their example. But I think there was another reason for our standing upright while shells and bullets whistled around us. It was impersonal death which we here encountered for the first time. The bullets and shells were not meant to end just our lives. Death, which had been at our heels from the first day of our falling into the hands of the Nazis, death in Auschwitz, was quite a different companion. In Auschwitz we were singled out, we Jews, defenseless, completely at the mercy of the merciless. Death was lurking at every corner ready to force us into his suffocating grip. At times we even felt a desire to surrender to this greedy companion to escape at least the daily, nay hourly, threat that he might strike us down. In Auschwitz we had to resist the temptation to throw ourselves against the seductive electric wire and thus end our suspense. In the Blechhammer Forest, where only impersonal death threatened, we shared a danger common to all and felt free and relieved even when we realised that the shells and bullets might end our escape into life.
The Jewish Central Information Office has been informed by another eye-witness that, after Mr. Mannheimer's deportation, transports to the East continued to leave Theresienstadt, and that about a total of 18,000 people were removed in the autumn of 1944. In the early months of 1945 the Nazis deliberately brought into the camp people from other concentration camps who were infected with typhus; some days trains arrived with up to 150 bodies of people who had died from this disease on the way.
When the camp was liberated by the Russians there were some 5,000 Jews from Germany in Theresienstadt, 4,000 Jewish husbands or wives of mixed marriages who had been separated from their non-Jewish partners.
This eye-witness estimated that the death
rate during the maximum occupation of the camp,
which he maintains was not more than 40,000, was 150 a day. He is of opinion that Theresienstadt was never intended to be anything more than a transit
camp, irrespective of the age of the people
privileged to live in this
Home for the Aged.
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- ארכיון יד ושם / Yad Vashem Archives
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