Nazi official Heinrich Himmler ordered the liquidation of the Lodz ghetto in the first half of June, 1944. The Soviet Union had begun their successful offensive along the easstern front. The Americans had landed at Normandy. Jack Welner describes his family’s reaction to the orders to leave.
|<||This went on until August of 1944. And that’s when they sent us to Auschwitz.
In the beginning we were hiding out. We didn’t want to go. We didn’t know where we were going. The German head of the ghetto would come to our place of work and he would say, “My dear Jews, you are going to Germany to work. You can take with you whatever you want. Everything, you can take with you.” That’s when the Russian front was coming closer, that’s why they evacuated the ghetto. “Don’t think the Russians will treat you nice, don’t forget you worked for the German army for so long. they won’t treat you nice.” They tried to scare us into going.
We didn’t want to go. As a matter of fact, at that time, in August of 1944 from the whole family, there were three of us left in the ghetto: my mother, my younger sister and I. My brother died on D-Day, June 6, 1944. He died of starvation. My older sister, her husband was taken away to work earlier. Then in 1942, she was taken away with her little boy who was about six years old. They took them away. That was the last I saw of them. I had two younger sisters. The one next to me was taken away in June of `44, and was taken to a labor camp in Poland. She survived. She lives here now. My youngest sister also survived, but she died almost two years ago in Israel.
Most people didn’t want to leave, even though they were threatened with starvation. “The circumstance on 4 August can be describe as follows: The distribution points and the few private shops were shut tight. Not the least thing was to be had, as money ceased to have any value.
August 15, Rumkowski, leader of Ghetto’s Jewish Council of Elders, sent out word:
“Jews of the ghetto, be sensible!!!
Report voluntarily to the transports!
You thereby make the departure easier on yourselves.
Only those reporting voluntarily will have the certainty of traveling together with their family members and to take along baggage.
I therefore advise you to report still tonight at the Central Prison or in the collection point at 3 Krawiecka Street.”
At that time the three of us were left, my youngest sister and my mother and I. So we tried to hide out in the ghetto. When the Germans surrounded our block, when the soldiers pointed their guns at our neighborhood, at us, we knew that our block was surrounded. They went from apartment to apartment to see if anybody’s hiding out, to take them to the train station.
I made a hiding place. We had a china cabinet. I moved it away from the wall enough to put in a chair for my mother. One end was a wall, the other end was open, so I put a table — we had a wooden table — and I put bedding on top of the table and underneath and closed it up. When we heard the Germans come up to our floor, we went behind the thing there, and I remember the Germans came in looking we heard, they were in the room looking, we were behind the thing, and they left. They didn’t find us.
But the next day we left to the train station anyway, because we didn’t have any food left. We didn’t have anything to eat. So we had to go. When we got to the train station we thought that maybe its true, that we’re going to Germany to work because the German soldier helped my mother up into those boxcars. There was like a ramp going up there, so he helped her walk up there.
And before we left they gave us a piece of bread, and they closed the doors of the boxcars. Then in the middle of the night, I don’t know what time it was, we came to a stop. There was little window up on the corner of the boxcar with bars. We lifted somebody up there and we wanted to see where we’re at. So he looked out and he says, “We’re in some kind of a camp.” There were the electrified wire of Auschwitz.
So after the train was going back and forth and finally the doors open. It’s like the gates of hell opened. Screams right away: “Heraus! Heraus!” The German screamed, “raus! `raus!” They start grabbing people, pulling them down. We took with us whatever we could carry, like shirts and stuff, and then bundles of stuff. They tore everything out of our hands, threw it in a pile. And I jumped down first, I went down, and I helped my mother and my sister come down.
Loading boxcars in Lodz. Courtesy Jewish Virtual Library.
And right away they started screaming, “Men on this side! Women on this side!” The screams went like hell. If there’s a hell, I was in hell already. Believe me. And so right away, men this side, the women this side. And I’m standing there, I said to my mother, I don’t know where they’re going to take us but I’ll try to look you up later. Much did I know that that’s the last time I saw my mother. And that piece of bread that we got at the beginning of our journey, Of course I ate it right way, my sister ate it right away. My mother didn’t eat it I didn’t even notice. But when they’re tearing me away from my mother and my sister, she shoved that piece of bread in my hand. “You take it. You’ll need it.” And that was the last I saw of my mother.
After the war, my sister survived. She survived in a concentration camp in Belsen, which was liberated by the British army. She told me after the war that after they separated me from my mother and her, they later separated later my mother from her. She was young, they took her to work, and my mother tehy took to the gas chamber. And that’s the last she saw of my mother.
Auschwitz. Courtesy Jewish Virtual Library.
So that was that part of our …
I was in Auschwitz. I sort of like blacked it out, it was just … maybe a week, I was in Auschwitz. Then they took us again by boxcar. They gave us a piece of bread, a piece of salty margarine, and piece of blood sausage, also salty. Everybody was starving. And they put in a couple buckets of water, and a couple empty buckets to use a toilets, and they locked us in. Four days and four nights in those wagons. People were starving, they started eating the bread with the salty margarine, and they got thirsty, started drinking the water, and they got diarrhea. It’s beyond description what was happening in that wagon. We were about 70 people, standing up, what was happening in that wagon during that journey from Auschwitz to a camp near Dachau.
Auschwitz was part of a large Auschwitz-Birkenau Konzentrationslager in which an estimated four million people perished from all the countries under Nazi control.
According to one eyewitness of the selection process, described in the Auschwitz visitor’s guidebook:
“The vans were unloaded one after the other. After depositing their baggage, the Jews had to pass individually in front of an SS doctor, who decided on their physical fitness as the marched past him. Those considered capable of employment were immediately taken into the camp in small groups. Taking an average of all the transports, between twenty-five and thirty percent were found fit for work, but this figure fluctuated considerably. The figure for Greek Jews, for example, was only fifteen percent.”
SS Doctor Johann Kremer, who took part in the selections, wrote:
“At 3 o’clock was for the first time present at a `special action.’ Compared with it, Dante’s Inferno seems almost a comedy. No wonder Auschwitz is called an extermination camp.”
Dachau itself was a concentration camp. Nobody worked inside Dachau. There were satellite camps, labor camps, around Dachau. They sent us into that one camp, Which was camp number four, which was a quarantine camp. Again they made selections. Whoever didn’t make it during the journey, they liquidated them, sent him into Dachau to the crematory. And us, the stronger ones, they sent to a different camp, our camp was number 10, for labor.
We were there from, that must have been, like the beginning of September, 1944, we were in that camp, working until August 24th, (1945), doing real hard work, real hard work, with very little food.
Videography and production assistance from Jake Whipple.