Alfred - Poland / Auschwitz
born in Oswiecin,
Poland. His father was a grain dealer and his
mother was a teacher. His parents were fluent in German. His father served in
the Austrian army in WW I. He had three sisters and one younger brother. At this
time it was very common for Polish Jews to give their children German names
because the Germans were such a respected and cultured people. Even though Poles
had heard that Hitler had written a book Mein Kampf, no one believed what he had
written would be allowed to happen to the Jews.
had always been a weak nation. Prior to 1918
had been divided and ruled by its neighbors : To the east were the Russians
ruled by the Czar , to the west the Germans, and to the south the
Austrian-Hungarian Empire ruled by King Franz Joseph.
Alfred was growing up the Polish army- 73rd infantry division- was housed in the
barracks in his town-- they held their exercises on his family's land- These
barracks were later to become the concentration camp Auschwitz.
to Hitler, anti-Semitism was rampant in Poland
because 98% of Poland
was Catholic, and there was no separation of church and state. All minorities
suffered as a result. The Jews were suppose to be protected by the Polish
constitution but the enforcement people did little to help them, even if they
saw Poles beating them up on the streets.
finished seventh grade when the Germans occupied Poland on September 1, 1939. He was
attending the Hebrew
Academy. After the
occupation all Jews had to register and ID cards with a red "J" were issued.
Jews were forced to wear white arm bands with a blue Jewish star and also a
yellow star of David on their lapels. Travel for Jews was restricted and Jewish
businesses were confiscated, books and synagogues were burned and Jews could not
further their education. There was a curfew and Jews were restricted to a
certain area of Auschwitz to live. Daily Jews
were taken off the streets and taken to forced labor camps where they had to
convert the barracks that had been used by the Polish army into a concentration
camp. Many times Alfred went to forced labor to spare his father being sent.
the Jewish Council (Judenrat) had to deliver a quota of Jews daily for forced
labor to the Germans or they were killed for not obeying an order. In 1940 -
Placards were posted by the Germans around city hall - offering to allow Jews to
emigrate to Palestine. Alfred's
parents paid for him to go. He got as far as the Tatra mountains, which were
part of the Carpathian Mountains which border
and Czechoslovakia , and then
they were all arrested and returned to jail in Auschwitz.
Alfred has no idea why. He was in jail for 18 days but because the gas chambers
were not ready, he was released and felt "lucky" to have survived.
this family was sent to Sosnowitz which was 50 kilometers from his home town as
part of a German plan to make Auschwitz
"judenrien"- free of all Jews. They did not want the Jews to know that they were
building an extermination camp at Auschwitz.
Alfred feels that " they did not want this to leak out".
was a ghetto. It was the worst time of their life so far. Before this Alfred's
family had been able to grow their own food but now they were forced to live in
one room, and his father suffered because he could not feed his family or make a
Ghetto all Jews had to register and were given different colors of ID cards, the
blue color was the best which Alfred had which meant you were working for an
important German industry. Alfred had a job working for the Germans- draining
oil drums - the oil was sent to the front- Alfred thought he was safe with this
"important German work".
all the Jews in the ghetto were sent to the soccer stadium where there was a
"selection" which determined their fate. His mother and little brother were sent
to the "left" for extermination as unproductive. His father and two sisters were
sent home to the ghetto and Alfred and one sister were sent to a forced labor
camp. He felt that this gave him, his chance to survive. He was then sent to
Blechammer, another forced labor camp where his head was shaved, and he was
given striped pajamas. Here he met Jews from Holland and France. They were not used to the
hard life, like the Jews of Poland, who were poor and used to having little
food, and they were the first to die from starvation and depression. Because he
was young Alfred still thought he was "invincible".
next sent to Bunzlau, where he was assigned to a manual labor task group. The
other more skilled workers were made to build barracks , and "dummy wooden
planes" . These "planes" were purposefully placed on airfields to confuse the
Allied forces into thinking Germany had many more planes than
they really had. There was a demand for building more factory space and that was
where the unskilled workers were assigned to of which Alfred was one of them.
His job consisted of mixing mortar, and carrying bricks .
daily diet at this time consisted of a piece of bread and "soup" which was
barely enough to survive. Many died of starvation.
another inmate approached Alfred , and asked him to help him steal potatoes from
the German warehouse. Alfred figured it was death from starvation or being
caught stealing so he joined him in "organizing" -stealing potatoes.
time the camp was run by German civilians, who were known to steal food from the
typical day in the camp consisted of:
roll call in the morning and at night; food was given out once a day in the
they were able to wash briefly and then were sent to the barracks to sleep and
get ready for another day of work. At roll call everyone had to be accounted
for- they were made to stand in line until the numbers matched.
the camp was taken over by the elite German SS. The inmates were treated much
better and the SS did not steal the food. The SS picked new camp personnel.
time Alfred was very sick and was considered to be a "musselman"- a walking
skeleton" ready to die. Because Alfred was sick, his work was not good enough
and he was hit on the ear by a "kapo". He went to the "infirmary" to get
ointment for his ear. There as no real medical treatment in any of the camps.
There he was approached by an SS officer who wanted him to work for him. He told
Alfred to go to the end of the "roll call" line and he assigned him to work in
the laundry which was next to the kitchen. Alfred said this was like "winning
the lottery" because he was inside where it was warm, and he got extra food by
doing the wash of the kitchen workers. This saved his life. He had this job for
point the SS from area camps came to where Alfred was - and all the inmates had
to go through a "selection" . Those who could not work were sent for
extermination. Alfred feels that the key to survival was : You had to be lucky
to be taken to a forced labor camp and not to an extermination camp; if you were
young and naive it helped because you did not realize the seriousness of the
situation; if you were a skilled craftsman (such as tailors, carpenters or
bricklayers) you had a chance to land an easier job and were rewarded by the
German overseers with extra food.
Alfred, many aspects of the Holocaust are hard for him to understand to this
that it is hard to believe what the Germans were capable of doing to other human
beings - Alfred and his family had all looked up to the Germans before the war.
In 1939 Alfred's father had the opportunity to leave
He decided to stay because he had more faith in the educated, cultured Germans
than in the Russians.
points out that before the war 3 million Jews lived in Poland and only 10% survived the
war. The Germans wanted a "pure race". He still does not understand how
could let this happen. His own analogy is: The Germans considered Jews as
rodents. So they called in an exterminator to kill all of them just like rats.
The Nazis first killed large numbers of Jews by shooting and hangings- many
others died from disease, the elements and starvation. After a while this was no
longer efficient enough for the Germans, and In January 1942, at Wannsee, the
leadership of the Nazi party came up with the Final Solution to the Jewish
points out that a problem for the Germans was the railroad cars were being
damaged- because the cars were not heated- and the bodies would freeze - when
they tried to take the bodies out- the wood would be damaged.
the order came to evacuate the camp. The Russians were approaching from the East
and the Americans from the West. They were ordered out of the barracks and sent
on a "Death March". The inmates served as horses- to pull the wagons with
supplies. Bread was stolen from some of the wagons.
stopped at a village called Waldau , 6 people hid in the barn. The next night ,
at the next village 50 people tried to escape by hiding in a barn, in the straw.
The SS discovered that they were missing and ordered them to be found. The SS
searched the barn and brought the missing people back to the line - they were to
be shot- but they ran towards the line and tried to mingle . 12 were shot and
Alfred had to bury them in the snow because the ground was frozen.
The SS man
in charge was named Schultz. When Schultz recognized one of the prisoners who
had tried to escape he shot the man himself.
came to Dora Nordhausen where Alfred worked at the crematorium carrying dead
bodies to be burned.
was sent to Bergen Belsen where he worked in the kitchen. Many people died in
Bergen Belsen after the liberation because they ate the wrong food too soon.
15 1945, Alfred was liberated by the British. Alfred and his sister are the only
members of his family to survive.
liberation lists of survivors were listed in Displaced Person camps- Alfred and
his sisters names were not on the lists. Neither knew the other had survived. A
friend of Alfred's who had been in camp with him- found his own sister 's name
on the list - she was in Austria- he went to visit her- it turns out that she
was with Alfred's sister in the same camp. Alfred's sister asked him if he knew
her brother. He at first said "no". She insisted that he was in the same camp
-Alfred's friend admitted he knew a man with the same last name but a different
first name- that name was Alfred's nickname- It took three months for Alfred to
find out she was alive in Austria-
message to students today is to appreciate the country you live in - with its
freedom of religion and freedom of speech. He asks students to fight bigotry and
hatred and get involved. If not you will be doomed to have history repeat
itself. Always be on guard against another Hitler.
Related Resources for this Speaker:
Fragments of Isabella: A Memoir of Auschwitz
Leitner, Isabella. Dell Publications, 1983.
A survivor of Auschwitz recounts the ordeal of holding her family together in
the death camp after the mother is killed. Includes a glossary of death camp
language. Recommended for High School reading level.
Wiesel, Eli. Bantam Books, 1982.
Eli Wiesel's best-known work on the Holocaust. The book traces his own
experience in Auschwitz, and is considered to be essential reading for students
studying the Holocaust. Recommended for Grades 6 and up.
Survival in Auschwitz
Levi, Primo. Macmillan, 1987.
Primo Levi was an Italian Jew captured in 1943 who spent the rest of the war
in Auschwitz. His memoir reconstructs daily life inside the camp, as well as his
inner life as the travesties that occurred there took their terrrible toll on
both body and spirit. Recommended for High School reading level.
Auschwitz: If You Cried, You Died
Chronicles the journey of two Holocaust Survivors as they revisit the hell
they knew as the Auschwitz concentration camp.
The Sorrow: The Nazi Legacy
A group of six teenagers embark on a journey to Auschwitz, in an effort to
comprehend the incomprehensible: The Holocaust. Addresses the questions many
students have about "How could all this happen? How was it allowed to happen?"
The Triumph of Memory
A PBS-produced documentary on the resistance fighters who were sent to the
concentration camps. Acccounts are given of what they saw and experienced inside
several camps, including Auschwitz.