Testimony of Mr. K. Pincus
The following is the testimony of Holocaust survivor - Mr. K. Pincus. In this testimony the witness, who was born in Bochnia, tells about the fate of the local Jewish community from the break of the Second World War to the last day of the ghetto existence. The witness was drafted for hard labor at the age of 14 and later on was transferred to the Klaj labor camp near Bochnia. Mr. Pincus provides us with details of the liquidation aktion in September 1943 and the name of the Nazi commander in charge of this aktion. In addition to that the witness is describing here the events in the deserted ghetto until mid October 1943. Later on the witness tells about his transfer to Szebni labor camp and from there to Auschwitz. He describes the torture in Birknow and his work in the I.G. Farben - Buna camp. When the Russian forces approached in January 1945, the witness participated in the death march and was transported onto German soil to assist in the V1 & V2 missiles project in the Thuringen mountains. Due to the advancement of the British offensive in April, the witness with other prisoners was transferred again to Czechoslovakia where he managed to escape and was liberated by the American forces a short time after.
My name is K. Pincus. I was born on February the 8th 1926 at 15 Kowalska guss1 in Bochnia. My father's name was Chiel and my mother's name was Rachel. I went to the Bobuv Yeshivah2 in Bochnia until 1939, the break of the war, and I was 13 years old at that time. The first thing they did was close the shules and the schools because it was forbidden to have large gatherings. The school stopped right there in 1939 but still we used to do it (to study) secretly. I remember that we used to get together in secret and somebody had to watch out for the Germans.
Interviewer: When the war broke out a lot of people ran away from Bochnia ...
We didn't, my father did not believe in it so we stayed right in Bochnia.
Fortunately we did not lose anybody and we didn't get hurt. But a lot of
people fled farther east and then they had a hard time coming back. As a
matter of fact, my father's brothers fled and got stuck over there by Lemberg
on the east side (of Poland). The Russians grabbed a part of Poland and now
they could not come back any
|more. At that time it seemed tragic but that was actually lucky
for them because he (the father's brother) went to Russia and he survived
and the other family members did not survive. At that time we all felt sorry
for my uncle because he tried to come back and he could not make it because
they closed the borders. In a way it was lucky for him and he survived.
Interviewer: Can you recall the way the Germans behaved toward the Jews when the German army entered Bochnia the first time in 1939?
Upon entering the city of Bochnia in September 1939 the Germans did not harm the Jews. It was pretty quiet, not like in other towns in our district. There were sporadic cases of a German hitting a Jew but it was not organized.
Interviewer: Did looting of Jewish property take place at that time?
Local Poles broke into wealthy homes and stores. Many Jews ran away upon the break of the war and when they came back they found that their stores were cleaned out. I remember a large fabric store on Kowalska guss named Jakubowitz. I saw the Poles coming at night and robbing the place.
Interviewer: So the war broke out, the Germans took over and Jewish schools were forbidden ...
Everything was gradual. Then they put us in a ghetto in 1940.
Interviewer: Do you remember the date when they moved you into the ghetto?
I remember that it was winter and cold when they put us in the ghetto, I can not recall the exact date. It might have been at the end of 1940 or the beginning of 1941. Fortunately for us we did not have to move because the ghetto was right there where we lived. The Kowalska guss was part of the ghetto so we did not have to move.
Interviewer: Was it right at the center of Bochnia?
Right. That was where the Jewish community center the "Judenrat" was located. It was not far from us, the third house from us. That was the center where the ghetto was. The president of the Judenrat was Symcha Weiss and Yanek Gutfreund was the vice president. Another member of the Judenrat was Richter and Rosen was the chief of the Jewish police the Yiddish Ordnungsdienst3 .
Interviewer: Can you recall what happened gradually from 1939 to 1940 ?
At first everybody had to register for work. They already picked people
for work. In 1940 they took about 100 people from Bochnia to a labor camp
near Mielitz, a town located 40 km from Bochnia. They worked there in a mine
(possibly a salt mine). The Germans took Jews to clean the kasserna (the
|military base) as a preparation for the German army to move into
the base. They used Jewish laborers to clean the homes of the German officers
and to do their gardening. In the winter they employed Jews for snow removal
from the streets of Bochnia. I was drafted for the arbeit kommando (labor
detail) assigned to snow removal job as well but it lasted only a few days.
It was very heavy snow that winter. I remember that I was picked only in
1940 for work. We had to register and report to the Judenrat which sent us
to work for the Germans, building a highway. We were improving a highway
that already existed since they already planned then for the Russian offensive.
During that time it was relatively quiet. From time to time we heard about
killings. Jews were killed outside the ghetto maybe for smuggling. We had
to smuggle. Jews used to go and buy cows and bring (the meat) into the ghetto.
Many of them got caught and when they got caught they were executed. But
relatively it was quiet.
Interviewer: Was the ghetto that was formed in 1940 sealed or open?
Yes they did put up a fence. Jewish workers under German supervision put up a fence. There were loop holes in certain places that you could sneak out from but they did put a fence around the ghetto. There were some openings between houses that you could sneak through. But I do remember that there was a fence and they put Polish police as guards. The Kowalska and Kraszewska streets were fenced and there was a gate and you had to go through the gate.
Interviewer: How many gates were in the ghetto?
I remember only one gate. The one that used to go to Kraszewska street. This gate I do remember. There might have been other gates as well.
Interviewer: Were you drafted for forced labor after the ghetto was established ?
Yes. The Germans used to come with trucks. We had to work about 20 to
50 km out of town. I remember that we built the highway and laid telephone
lines all the way East. We dug big holes and put up the telephone posts within
these 50 km boundaries. We used to go to work every day except Sundays. We
left at 6 o'clock in the morning and the work lasted 8 hours but with the
truck transport it took 12 hours a day. We left early in the morning and
came back in the evening. I was young and the work did not bother me too
much. It was hard work and they used to pay us a very small (modest) salary
for it. In a way I even liked it (the work assignment) because we used to
work way out of town near farms and we were able to buy eggs, milk and cheese.
At that time the Germans were not that strict yet. We were supervised by
civilian German guards and as long as we did our work they did not bother
us. We worked hard but they weren't too strict. So every day we used to bring
milk and cheese and I bought live chickens and brought them into the ghetto.
You could not get anything in the ghetto except in the black market which
was very expensive. The food supply was terrible. You had to get everything
in the black market. Only people with a lot of money could afford it. Otherwise
you had only a limited amount of food allocated by food rationing. People
from small places who came with nothing were practically starving to death.
Of course other people tried to help them but it was very hard.
|Interviewer: How long did this work
I believe that it lasted the whole year of 1941. At the end of the year the work was completed. Then they sent me to another work in Klaj, not too far from Bochnia, about 10 to 12 km out of town. In Klaj there was a labor camp and I had to stay there during the week. There we slept in a barrack during the week and on weekends we came home. There we worked. It was an ammunition magazins (warehouses) camp where they stored artillery shells by the thousands. The laborers had to unload it and stock them up in those warehouses. It was (located) in the woods in order to camouflage its existence. My work battalion was draining the forest. We dug mile long ditches in order to drain the swamps. The Germans wanted to utilize the swampland for other purposes. I worked in Klaj all the way till 1943 and that saved my life. During that time two aktions4 took place in Bochnia.
Interviewer: How did the people obtain food in the ghetto?
There was food rationing in the ghetto. People had special cards which enabled them to obtain the rationed food in distribution centers. That food was not sufficient for survival and people were forced to buy additional food on the black market. Poor people, like those who came from other places with no possessions and without money, had to rely on soup kitchens. The people that had work received additional food above the limited food rationing. Some people risked their lives and sneaked out of the ghetto at night. They used to remove a few boards from the wooden fence and went out through the opening. Then they went to a farm and bought a cow, slaughtered it and brought the meat back into the ghetto. A few of them were caught and were executed but others succeeded. They brought the meat and sold it in the ghetto for a good price. This is how they managed to support themselves. That all happened before August 1942. At that time the Polish guards could have been paid off and pretended not to see this activity. Later on it was much stricter.
Interviewer: Tell me please about the big aktion of August 1942.
At that time my sister, my grandmother and a large part of my family was taken to Belzec extermination camp. During this aktion I was in Klaj and that saved my life. When I came home I was told that there was an aktion but we still believed that the people were taken to be resettled in the East. We did not know for sure and we did not know about the gas chambers.
Interviewer: Did the Germans deport members of the Judenrat during the aktion?
Yes. Richter, a very active member in the Judenrat and Gutfreund, the
vice president of the Judenrat were taken during the first aktion. Jacobowitz
and his wife were taken on the transport as well. Eitche Jacobowitz was our
landlord. His sons Yakov and Yosef Jacobowitz survived the war and moved
to Israel. I met them in Israel about 20 years ago. Other members of the
Judenrat were taken too but I can not remember all the names. Most of the
Judenrat was sent on this transport but some members
|remained. At that time the Germans were informing us that the deportees
are being transported to labor camps in the East. To make their deception
campaign more convincing they decided to add members of the Judenrat to this
transport. The average Jew that saw the leaders of the Judenrat being sent
away must have figured that the people on the transport were safe. In this
way they were trying to establish a false sense of security among the remaining
Interviewer: When you came back from Klaj after the first aktion did you find out who was the German commander that was in charge of this operation?
I was told by my family and other people in the ghetto that the person in charge of the first aktion in ghetto Bochnia was Kunde and he was assisted by Bogusch. Kunde was a sadist who used to come to Bochnia from time to time and was known for killing people in the ghetto.
Interviewer: Did your family hide during the first aktion?
No they didn't hide. They did hide only during the second aktion. My father had a job. Every body had a card to prove that he is working so he was all right and they did not bother him. But in the second aktion I remember that my father, my mother my brother and I went into hiding. I just happened to be in the ghetto too because that week we did not work, I can not remember the details. We knew a Polak who lived a short distance from the ghetto. We paid him and he came in the middle of the night. We left the ghetto and went to his place. He hid us in his stable for one day and the aktion was over in one day. They needed a few hundred people to fill out the quota. That was in November 1942 and I remember it was already chilly. I was in the ghetto and in the evening we knew that there was going to be an aktion.
Interviewer: How did you managed to get out of the fenced ghetto?
We came at night time to the fence and removed a few wooden boards from it. Through the opening we sneaked out. We had to pay the Polish policeman that was on guard so he would ignore us. The Polish guy was waiting in the distance and we followed him to his place.
Interviewer: How did you know ahead of time that an aktion was going to take place?
My father was a good friend of Symcha Weiss (the president of the Judenrat).
He was not in the Judenrat but he held a card which indicated that he was
working for them. He had to pay in order to have this card. Every person
had to have proof that they were working. Actually he was not working but
he held the card just in case that he will be stopped by the Gestapo. So
my father had connections with Symcha Weiss and Symcha Weiss let us know
that we had to find a hiding place and get into hiding. In the ghetto you
had to have connections. So we hid in that stable for one night and on the
next day it was all over.
|Interviewer: How many people were hidden in
It was my parents, my brother and me, my sister had been taken to Belzec on the first aktion. There was another couple with their daughter. All together we were seven people in that stable. My brother's name was Avrum and my sister's name was Ruzza, Rose. When my sister was taken away she was a young girl, only three years older than me. When I came back from Klaj after the first aktion my mother told me that she went with the other people. She was 18 years old at that time. I believe that she was born in 1922.
Interviewer: Tell me please Tell me please about Mr. Symcha Weiss, the president of the Judenrat. Was he the leader of the Jewish community (the Kehilla) prior to the war?
Mr. Weiss was not the leader of the Kehilla. He was an owner of a shoe store in Bochnia. During the war he was appointed by the Germans as the president of the Judenrat. He was a very good man. His son is living at present in Israel.
Interviewer: According to some testimonies Dr. Rosen, the head of the Jewish police was nominated later on as the president of the Judenrat. Are you aware of that?
Mr. Weiss remain the president until the very end and Rosen was the head of the Jewish police. Rosen had a very bad name among the Jewish people in Bochnia. To the best of my knowledge he survived the war and a lot of people accused him of committing different crimes. I heard that the Poles arrested him after the war and I have no idea what was his fate.
Interviewer: What happened from November 1942?
I was still working in the Klaj labor camp. I went back to work and I stayed there until the last week of August 1943. One week before the last aktion they closed the lager5 Klaj. I am not sure that they actually closed it however they told us to stay in the ghetto and not to come back. We suspected already then that something is about to happen but we did not know what. We knew that there is going to be another aktion.
Interviewer: Tell me please about the last aktion.
The last aktion started on September the 1stst 1943. It was early in
the morning. My parents woke me up at about 5 o'clock a.m. We looked outside
and we saw that everybody is like a tummel6 everybody was running
and we knew that the ghetto was surrounded. So we knew that this is it. My
father right away ran to Symcha Weiss. The SS allowed for only 150 people
to remain in the ghetto in order to liquidate the ghetto. So Symcha Weiss
put our name on that list. They separated us, the 150 people, from the crowed.
Everybody had to report to a big appellplatz7 , a special (open)
place in the ghetto. We stayed not far from there and we watched everybody
coming there with the children. There were a few hundred SS men participating
in this aktion. You could not tell if they were Germans or Ukrainians
|since even the Ukrainians used to wear SS uniforms. Most of the
Einsatzgruppen8 were surrounding the ghetto and on the appellplatz
there were 20 to 30 of them armed with guns and machine guns. All the people
in the appellplatz had to sit on the ground during the night and the selection
started on the next morning. The SS man (commander) was hauptsturmfuhrer
Haase. He was in charge of the Einsatzgruppen and I was watching him how
he selected the people. There was a desk there and he was pointing with his
cane he was pointing right and left. The children to the left, elderly people
to the left, and the younger people were sent to Szebnie labor camp. But
the children, all the children they took away from their mothers. There were
about one hundred children there and also the older men. And you could hear
the screaming the howls and the crying it was unbelievable.
Interviewer: What did they do with the people on the left?
They put these people on the train and sent them right away to Auschwitz. The rest of the people went on another train to Szebnie. The elderly men and the children were led away on the day of the selection (September the 2nd 1943). We could see that every man had to carry a child. They chased them with sticks and they all had to run to the train. We stayed there overnight and by the next morning they moved the other group to Szebnie and the ghetto was empty. Then the trouble started. The SS came with dogs and started to search the houses. They came with dogs and they picked up quite a lot of them. With the dogs they sniff out quite a lot of Jews who were hiding in bunkers underground and under the houses. They picked them out by the hundreds. We could see the executions. They pulled them out and put them against the houses and executed them right in the street. That was during the day, Thursday September the 3rd, right after the departure of the group to Szebnie. We could hear the machine guns, the whole day it was like a battlefield.
The next day, Friday morning, hauptsturmfuhrer Hasse came and made a
head count of the remaining Jewish work battalion in Bochnia. He counted
about 250 people in that group. He started to scream at Symcha Weiss the
president " I allowed only for 150 people to remain in this group, how come
there are 250 people instead?!". What happened was that every policeman had
a friend and other people had friends and the president tried to help. He
thought that maybe he can get by with another one hundred people. Unfortunately
hauptsturmfuhrer Hasse got furious and ordered to pull up 100 people from
the group. They picked people at random. My mother was standing right next
to me and they grabbed her right by the arm and pulled her out. They pulled
out quite a lot, almost a hundred people, and they moved them away. That
was on the Kowalska guss right in front of my house. They moved them a few
hundred feet, we could see it, lined them up and mowed them down. We could
see it all and you can imagine how we all started to scream. And that was
not all. After it all got quiet they came and picked up 20 strong guys. Since
I was a young fellow they picked me too. We had to move the bodies and they
showed us where to put them. We moved them by hand. They had carts there
and we put them on carts. We had to pile the bodies not far from the appellplatz
right in front of the judenrat. We had to put them one on top of the other
in a high pile. There must have been there over a hundred (bodies). They
brought gasoline and we poured it on (the human pile) and burned
|I remember it was already in the evening and I saw my mother's body
so I pulled her out. It was a grassy area not far from there and I put her
in the grass. An SS man noticed that and came and kicked me and started
screaming. He hit me with the stock of his carbine screaming "what are you
doing verfluchter Juden9 " and I had to take the body back and
burn it. We burnt all the bodies. I wanted to give her a proper burial and
I thought that maybe I could get away with it. Later on it become dark and
all the SS men left. I found a big metal can and I put all the ashes there
(in the can) and I buried it. I figured that if I survive the war maybe some
day I will come back and at least I will give these ashes a decent burial.
These ashes were not only of my mother but of the whole group. It doesn't
take much after it is burnt. These little (few) ashes could have been the
remains of 50 people. I buried the can right there about 3 to 4 feet deep.
I remember there was a fence. About seven years ago I went to Poland and
I went to that place. I spent there half a day searching for it but I could
not find it. Everything looks so different now. It was overgrown with weeds
and the fence was gone.
Our group that remained behind was placed in one big building. They put banks and straw there and everybody had to sleep in that one building. In September 1943 we liquidated the ghetto and had to move all the furniture. They came with trucks, loaded them with furniture and moved it to Germany. We moved from house to house and removed every piece of furniture, mattresses and clothes, everything from every house. We piled it outside and then they came with trucks and we had to load it up. I am not sure where they moved it, probably to Germany. We worked like that for six weeks.
Interviewer: How long after the third Aktion did you see people of the ghetto coming out of hiding?
During the whole period of those six weeks I saw people coming out of hiding. We tried to help and bring them some food since we knew the location of their hiding places. But the Germans came with dogs and smoked many of them out of the bunkers. They filled the bunker with smoke so the ocupants had to come out. When they took them out they executed them right on the spot. Small groups they led to the Jewish cemetery and killed them there. We had to go and dig their graves. But large groups, many were hiding 20 to 30 people the whole family, they did not want to take them there so they put them against the wall and executed them. Then we had to come and take off their clothes. We poured gasoline, made a fire and burnt them. Sometime after the liquidation of ghetto Bochnia I was told by members of the Ordnungsdienst that hauptsturmfuhrer Hasse was a pediatrician in his profession.
After six weeks the SS came and picked us up. From the group of 150
people they took about a 100. It was very sudden without any prior notice.
In the middle of the day they grabbed us, put us on a train and sent us to
Szebnie. I went with my brother and did not even have the time to see my
father in order to say my final good by. They left about 50 people in the
ghetto, since we ran out of work, and the hundred of us they put on a cattle
train and sent to Szebnie. The train cars were closed with a little
|barred window, just enough to get fresh air, and our group occupied
only one or two cars. I did not notice any guard outside our car. Later on
I found out from a friend who survived that eventually they sent my father
to Plaszow. I believe that he remained in the ghetto until December and then
they sent him to the Plaszow camp in the suburb of Krakow. They sent him
to Plaszow and there he got shot by the camp commander10 .
I was in Szebnie for seven days. On the seventh day they liquidated Szebnie and sent us to Auschwitz. During these seven days I did not do any work and I did not see other people doing any work. They might have had work earlier but during the time that I was in Szebnie there was nothing to do, there was no work. Szebnie was liquidated at the beginning of November, I believe it was November the 7th. Before they took us from Szebnie to Auschwitz there was a heavy downpour. It was raining cats and dogs and we had to run really fast to the railroad station. When we got to the railroad station they ordered us to take off our clothes. At that time I was sure that they were going to kill us but evidently they only wanted our clothes. They packed us like sardines, a hundred or more in a wagon. I was there with my brother and a good friend of mine, his name was Mendel Braunhut. On the journey we were completely naked but on the wagon were so many people that we cuddled (huddled together) each other to keep warm. We arrived at Auschwitz on about November the 8th since it took us only one day to be transported from Szebnie to Auschwitz. This time we could see the guards posted on a special stand at every car.
When we arrived at Auschwitz they unlocked the wagons and SS men with dogs chased us outside and we had to get in a line. When I stood in line I saw from the distance in the dim light (it was still dark) an SS man, who must have been Mengele, and he made the selection. There were inmates from Auschwitz who helped the SS unloading the people from the train. One of these inmates told me that when I was to stand in front of Mengele I had to stand at attention and state my name and my age. He told me "be sure to tell him that you are 20 years old (I was 16 at the time) and that you have a profession, a carpenter." Anyway when I stood in front of Mengele at attention and told him that I am 20 years old and that I am a carpenter he sent me to the left. He sent my brother to the left and my friend to the left as well. My instinct told me that we were on the wrong line. I saw the young kids and the elderly people and I said to my brother "we are in the wrong line." I could see the other line going to the camp, already moving, and fortunately it was dark. In spite of the fact that SS men with dogs were standing between us and the other group without thinking I took off. I remember that a dog chased me and grabbed me from behind but I was too fast. I made it in a split second. A second later I probably wouldn't have made the line because they would have already been gone. And I got into the camp. My brother (and my friend) ran after me. I did not see him but I met him (them) later on in the camp. The other group on the left went straight to the crematorium and we went to the camp.
Interviewer: What camp was that?
That was in Birkenau. They took us into a big building, like a warehouse,
with cement floor and we stayed there during the night.The next morning we
took a cold water shower. They shaved our hair,
|tattooed us and disinfected us with special powder. I remember it
was a bitter cold day and it was raining. Everything was outside. We had
to line up outside for the shaving of the hair, for the tattooing and only
at night did they give us clothes. It was stripped uniforms. Later on they
put us in barracks. There were 600 to 700 people in a barrack.
Interviewer: How many barracks were there?
There were hundreds of them. There are still some left but there were hundreds of them. Birkenau was a transition camp, like a basic training camp for the army. Every day more and more people came and more people died. There was a constant turnover. They did not give us anything to eat until late in the evening of the second day. We were awfully tired, hungry and cold. They gave us warm soup and put us in the barrack.
The next morning we went to work. There was no work there like in Buna or other camps. Every morning at five o'clock they got us out of the barracks. We had to stay outside and carry rocks from one place to another. That was the whole thing, you could see that there was no work but only pure torture. We picked up heavy rocks, about 20 to 30 lb. rocks, from one place. We walked about half a mile in a mud knee deep, the streets were not paved. Then we had to put it (the rocks) all in a pile and later on we had to pick it up again and move it back. That I remember that there was nothing to do except all kinds of torture. I was there for six weeks, another few weeks and I wouldn't have made it. Fortunately after six weeks I could see from the distance lining up of a lot of people. I was told that they are looking for people for a different camp. I took a chance, ran there and put myself in that line. Then they sent me to Buna11 . Buna was another camp, part of Auschwitz, and was located about 7 km. from Birkenau. Over there we worked because in Buna they worked for the I-G. Farben Industry12 . It was a military complex and they produced chemicals and all kinds of other materials for the war efforts. They had chemicals and they mostly produced chemicals. The amount of construction there was tremendous, over a fifty km range. This was where they sent us to work. So we did there mostly physical work like mixing cement, digging ditches, laying pipes, sewage and so forth. We worked hard there but the barracks were not as dirty as in Birkenau. We had only about 150 people in a barrack and everybody had a bunk to sleep in. In the morning they gave us something to eat, at noon we had a little soup at work and in the evening they gave us another soup and then we had a bath. It was rough too but nothing in comparison to Birkenau. Birkenau was the worst.
Interviewer: What kind of food did they give you in Buna?
In the morning you got a half a Pound of bread with a piece of margarine
and a cup of coffee. The coffee was always cold. At least we did some
(productive) work so they respected us a little better (more) in Buna. In
Birkenau we were like animals. We slept 500 to 600 people in a barrack. We
had no showers and we were filthy and dirty so the lice literally ate us
alive. We slept on long bunks, 10 people on a bunk and we had no blankets.
Here in Buna at least everybody had a blanket and it was much
|cleaner . We had showers outside so we could go outside and wash
ourselves. Once a month they took us to what they called "saune" for a shower.
It was quite an improvement next to Birkenau. Birkenau was literally an
extermination camp. Over there anybody who stayed for a period longer than
six weeks just died from starvation, beatings and hard labor. When we worked
with those rocks the kapos13 behind us used to beat the hell out
of us for no reason whatsoever. The kapos were criminals that the Germans
took out of jail and they brought them to Auschwitz and they become our
overseers. Most of them were Germans some were Ukrainians and some were even
Jewish. The worse they were the more reward they got. For them to kill a
man was nothing, the SS rewarded them for that. Everything was under the
kapos and the kapos were our overseers. They had the authority to beat us
or to do anything they wanted to do.
Interviewer: You had kapos in Buna as well ..
Yes, the kapos were everywhere. Each barrack had kapos and each kommando
as well. We were assigned to kommandos and I remember being assigned to kommando
58. We had there German kapos, some of them were decent and some were brutal.
Fortunately we had a kapo which was an older man, about fifty years old,
he was not so brutal and overlooked a lot of things. You had to have luck
in everything. If you had a bad kommando you did not make it. On August 20,
1944 the Americans bombed the I.G. Farben industry. Buna was a huge industrial
complex (later on I was informed that 125 American bombers took part in the
bombing). All the Germans took shelter in bunkers but the inmates had to
hide inside the buildings. In the building that I was hiding took shelter
hundreds of other inmates. Our building took a direct hit and was totally
destroyed. I was hiding near the door and when I realized that we took a
direct hit I ran outside. I could hear the building collapsing behind me.
All the other inmates in that building perished. I jumped into a nearby bomb
crater, 20 feet deep, that was still warm. I was in shock and did not realized
that I was wounded. A splinter penetrated my neck and I was bleeding heavily.
When they found me lying in this crater my shirt was soaked with blood. One
of the boys tore my shirt and wrapped it around my neck to stop the bleeding.
They made a makeshift stretcher and carried me to the hospital. From Sunday
to Friday I was lying on the floor in the hospital. The hospital was full
of wounded inmates and the staff could not attend to me earlier. I remember
that Dr. Grossman, a Jew from Berlin who was the only surgeon there, performed
the operation. Later on Dr. Grossman showed me the 4 inch splinter which
he extracted from my neck earlier. He told me that I was very lucky and that
the splinter came very close to a main artery. Often I was wondering why
the German kept me alive. I believe that it was for propaganda purposes.
A delegation of the Red Cross came from Switzerland and they took them to
my bed in the hospital. They told the Red Cross representatives that the
Americans nearly killed me but they (the Germans) kept me alive. I spent
two months in this hospital. Later on I learned that during that bombing
the Americans did not bomb Birkenau or even the railroad tracks that led
to this death camp. I found it very strange since Birkenau was not protected
by antiaircraft artillery. Buna on the other hand was well protected and
the Americans lost quite a few bombers in this attack. I was in Buna from
December (1943) all the way to January 1945. In January 1945 the Russians
came close and the offensive started. They removed all of us, put us on trains
and moved us farther west into Germany. (In this process) we had to walk
in the death march.
|On January 18th 1945 we did not go to work any more. They ordered
all of us to get ready and to take our blankets and whatever else we had
and we had to march all the way to Gleiwitz14 about 70 km from
Auschwitz. They marched us through the night from Auschwitz, the Buna camp
and the Birkenau camp we met the whole group on the way, to Gleiwitz. There
was a railroad station there and this was where we met all the people from
Auschwitz. On the way we had to run and it was bitterly cold and the snow
was two to three feet tall (deep). We could see from the distance the heavy
artillery of the Russians. We could see the fire from the (Russian's) barrels
they were so close. So we had to run literally and anyone who could not make
it was shot on the spot. We had to run the whole night and 70% of the people
did not make it. We (the inmates) were wearing wooden shoes, the shoes were
made entirely out of wood. It was good maybe for occasional use around the
house but to work in it and to walk for so many miles was impossible. They
caused us blisters and they were the most uncomfortable shoes. During the
march I took them off. Fortunately I had some rags wrapped around my feet
so I could walk but most of them (of the inmates) couldn't. It was bitterly
cold and I remember the snow was so high but we kept on running. I barely
made it to Gleiwitz, just barley. I remember just before Gleiwitz my feet
almost gave up and I practically dropped. And I do remember somebody behind
me, must have been another prisoner, kicked me and said "Shame on you, a
young man like you, get up before they will kill you !" He just gave me the
last will (a boost of will power) and I got up and kept walking and made
it to Gleiwitz but so many of them did not make it.
Interviewer: How many people would you say, died on this death march?
We had at least thirty thousand from Buna. I have no idea (about the exact number) but I remember that we could hear every second a pistol shot and a pistol shot .... My brother was with me all this time and he kept telling me while we marched "let's escape, let's escape". It was possible and he kept nagging me. His name was Avrum. And I told him "where would you run you know that this is Silesia and Germans are all over, you will be committing suicide." But he wouldn't listen to me and during the commotion he disappeared I presume he escaped and they must have caught him and shot him. After that I was looking for him everywhere but there was not a trace. I could not find my friend as well, he must have run away with my brother. My brother, my friend and I we were all posted in Buna.
Interviewer: What happened when you came to Gleiwitz?
In Gleiwitz there must have been at least one hundred thousands prisoners.
They were from Buna, Birkenau, Jaworzno15 and all the surrounding
camps of Auschwitz, there were so many camps. They kept us there for two
days with no food whatsoever, we just stayed there and waited. Finally the
order came and they put us on a cattle train. They loaded us up like cattle,
a hundred and fifty people to a
|wagon. Fortunately the wagons were open, because if they were closed
none of us would have survived. We had no food and nothing to drink but it
was snowing and that snow kept us alive since we kept licking the snow. For
ten days they packed us like sardines. For ten days we were in the wagons
until we came to Northhousen. Northhousen was another camp deep in Germany.
These ten days of the transport were the most miserable time. It was so crowded
that you could not move and you could not bend. Fortunately I was the first
one to get in the wagon so I grabbed a place right by the end against the
wall. If not that I wouldn't have made it. The people in the middle they
could not lay down and they could not sit down. The first few hours were
quiet. After a couple of hours people started to get tired and their feet
started to give under. So there was a commotion and people started fighting
each other, they become like animals. Everybody was panic stricken, tired
and nervous. They started fighting each other and people started literally
jumping. They said to themselves the hell with it and they jumped out of
the wagons. The SS was guarding the train and they mowed them down. I remember
that on the first night they started jumping, they had nothing to lose. That
was a daily event so every day it become looser and looser (it become less
crowded) people just jumped and than they just died in the wagons. People
just died from so many days of starvation. I remember that I sat next to
this fellow and we talked and all of a sudden I see him keel over, keel over.
I touched him and asked what happened but he was dead. He keeled over and
died just like that and we threw him overboard. Every night we threw the
dead people overboard.
Interviewer: Why did the trip take so many days? Was it so far away?
It was not that far. The train was very slow and we stopped on the way. It was only several hundreds of km. It took that long because the train kept stopping frequently. When we came to Northhousen and they unloaded us, there were twenty people left in the wagon. Only the strong ones survived, it was the survival of the fittest, and then they took us into the camp. I remember that when we got out of the wagon we could hardly walk. We were so weak after 10 days in a crowded wagon that we could hardly make it. They took us into the camp and gave us some warm soup. We stayed there for two or three days and then an order came to move again. This time they put us on another cattle train and moved us still farther to Dora. That was a small camp and we stayed there until about March. We worked there for the V1 & V2 missiles project. They blasted the rocks in the mountains with dynamite and we had to remove it all with shovels and all the rocks. We had to clean it up. They had the missiles in the mountains and we dug tunnels to hide those missiles. There were thousands of other prisoners. We dug tunnels to hide the missiles and they launched these missiles from there as well. It was in the Thuringen mountains. We worked there for about two months.
Finally by March the British forces started to advance from the other
side so we had to leave again. They put us again on a cattle train and moved
us to Czechoslovakia. Czechoslovakia was still under German occupation at
that time. The trip lasted about a couple of weeks but this time the wagons
were not that crowded, we did not have as many people as at the beginning.
I remember that the train stopped near the city of Prague. We passed Prague
by about 10 miles and stopped at a little village, we could see the sign,
named Katovice. The train stopped there and we did not know why. It was Friday
morning, April the 20th 1945. It was still cold and the snow was still deep.
April 20th was Hitler's birthday. I remember that in honor of the Fuhrer
the SS gave us in addition to the piece of bread for breakfast an extra peace
|I remember that before I managed to finish eating my bread I heard
alarm sirens. American fighter planes attacked our train. We saw that the
German guards, they had two guards assigned to each wagon, they ran and took
cover underneath the wagons. We were almost naked because the heat in the
wagon. Outside it was bitterly cold but there were many people in the wagons,
so I was wearing only a pair of shorts. Me with two other guys escaped from
the train. My instinct told me that this was an opportunity to jump the train.
We started running and I could see the fighter planes firing their machine
guns and the bullets were flying. Many other people fled too. I saw people
getting hit by bullets and falling. Luckily I did not got hit. We ran like
hell just away from the train. It was a wooded area and we kept running and
running. I ran as fast as possible with all my strength. I knew that this
is my only opportunity to escape. I remember that I kept falling and cutting
myself on the run and my feet and hands were bleeding. I was scratched all
over. We kept on running about two to three miles and finally we were far
away from the train so we sat down. This two guys and I rested up since we
were exhausted and tired. We could not see the train any more so we knew
that we were safe.
After escaping from the train we started to figure out what to do from now on. We all knew that the American forces were not far from us. We decided that first we had to get some clothes. It was bitter cold and we had only shorts on. We went to a farm hoping that they will help us. We knew that we are in Czechoslovakia and since this country was occupied by the Germans we believed that the Czechs will be friendly. We could see from the distance a house, a small brick house. We went there and very cautiously knocked on the door. In that house lived an elderly man with a wife and a son. When they saw us they did not realize who we are. Fortunately the Polish and Czech language are very similar so we managed to communicate and we told them who we are. They crucified themselves and prayed to God and prayed for us. We sat there for a while and it was nice and warm. First of all he gave us some hot soup to warm us up. We asked him if he could give us some old clothes even torn up, just anything to wear. He found some old torn shoes and old pair of pants that where twice my size but we were very appreciative. His only mistake was that after a while he gave us milk and sauerkraut. It was almost fatal for us and our stomachs could not take it. I remember that we ate it all the bread the sauerkraut and the milk since we were so hungry.
This man allowed us to sleep in his stable. That night I got a dysentery
attack. I was so sick and I started to bleed, got high fever, started to
shake and I felt that this is the end. I was so sick that I could have died.
This man was like an angel from heaven. He took his horse and buggy and went
into town and brought a Doctor. The Doctor gave me an injection and let me
drink paregoric16 that stabilized my stomach. I had an oral and
rectal bleeding and this Doctor saved my life just in time. The next morning
the farmer came to us and took us from there. A lot of prisoners escaped
from that train at that time and the SS were conducting a search in the area.
He took us into a wooded area, gave us a shovel and we
|dug a fox hole. We stayed in this hole for 18 days. The farmer and
some of his neighbors brought us every night soup and bread to keep us alive.
We stayed there until May the 7th when the American forces came in and liberated
After the war I moved to Germany like many other Jewish survivors. I went to the town of Sinbach near the Pocking camp. Personally I did not live in the camp since I could not stand the sight of another camp. While I was there I received a letter from the head of the Jewish community in Germany inquiring about my willingness to testify against von Hasse. Apparently he was detained after the war. I responded positively and filled out a questionnaire but I never heard from them since.
Mr. Kolender's testimony covers all the stages in the evolution of ghetto Bochnia. He gives us approximate dates for the ghetto formation and the three aktions that followed. Although the witness was not present in the ghetto during the first two aktions, he provides us with details of the final liquidation of 1943. According to Mr. Kolender the German officer in charge of the ghetto liquidation was hauptsturmfuhrer Haase, the same person who conducted so brutally, the final liquidation of ghetto Krakow. From the witness's story we can see the importance of the right contacts in the struggle for survival. The closeness of Mr. Kolender's family to the president of the Judenrat spared their lives through all the roundups and the raids. As a matter of fact all the people that were left in the ghetto after the liquidation of September 1943 were the friends and the families of the Judenrat and the Jewish police. This testimony collaborates with other testimonies regarding the hard labor and the events in the ghetto from 1940 to 1942. Its main contribution is in the description of the events that followed the final liquidation aktion of September the 1st 1943.