Slave Labor and Typhus at Dachau — A Holocaust Survivor’s Story:Part IV

Jack Welner was transported to a satellite work camp of Dachau in August of 1944. Andrzej Strzelecki writes in The Deportation of Jews from the Lodz ghetto to KL Auschwitz and Their Extermination, State Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau, 2006:

“According to extant KL Dachau New Prisoners Books of 31st August and 1st, 16th-18th and 29th September 1944, over 5,600 prisoners arrived from Auschwitz. Approximately 2,500 of these prisoners are recorded as been born in Lodz … many and perhaps a majority had been in the Lodz Ghetto.

“From the end of September 1944, approximately 500 Lodz Ghetto Jews were held in the KL Dachau sub-camp Riederloh II in Mauerstetten-Steinholz near Kaufbeuren, Bavaria. They were employed in the building of an underground munitions factory. Within a few months most of them died of hunger, overwork, or one of the many typhus epidemics.

I was lucky in that camp because I somehow finagled myself into a job at a machine. There was this German who was bending … We were building some kind of beams for underground — I think that’s what they said at that time — underground airfields.Photo: Jack Welner today.

So in the beginning I was carrying in irons, the rebars for the construction this thick (Jack makes a circle with his hands of about a four inch diameter), maybe thirty feet long, two guys had to go maybe six feet from one end, six feet from the other end, so the iron was hanging like this(Jack makes a wavy motion with his hand). And when we were walking, carrying it in, first we had to unload it from those cars, they were flatbeds, we had to unload it first, drop it on the ground, then carry it in to that machine that was bending this stuff. And we were walking in, we were walking like this (Jack makes an up-and-down motion with his hand) because the thing was wwahh — all day long.

I saw that I wouldn’t make it. So when we’re carrying it in to the machine, the German who was operating the machine, he had three helpers. The helpers were of course Jews. What they did they took the iron, they would put it on the table. We were dropping it right next to table, long table. The machine was let’s say like this (indicating coffee table in front of him) bigger or course, bigger and longer. And then there was a space between the machine and the long table (on one side of the machine) and a space and a long table (on the other side of the machine).

They would put it on top of the table and the German operator would mark it according to the plans where to bend it with chalk and then the two guys would pull the iron into the machine. He would adjust the way he wanted it and press the handle and then it would (Jack makes and engine  sound) and the machine would just bend it wherever he wanted. And then when one end was bent, one guy from this side would go and join the other guy on the other side — there were only three helpers — and would pull out that iron all the way across the table so he could bend the second end of it.

So when I saw that and when I started taking in that stuff, I saw, “I’ll drop dead.” So I got a little bit of guts, and went over to this German, I say — in German of course, I speak German, as a matter of fact I speak six languages — I say to the German, “Boss, I see you need another helper. You have two guys here, and here only one. I worked on machinery. I’m pretty good on machinery.”

He looks at me and just sort of smiles, shuts off the machine, and says, “Wait here.”

He walks over, there was the superintendent of the construction, with a helmet, with a white frock, he walks over to him, talks to him, points to me. And he comes back to me and says, “Okay, you stay here.”

And he took a liking to me. He would bring some pieces of bread, the crust of the bread because he was a guy who looks like he was 4-F, he couldn’t go to the army for some reason, so he was like the CB, construction battalions. In the morning, when they ate breakfast, they didn’t have any tea so they would cut away the rind of the bread. He would gather the pieces of bread, one day he brings a bag with those pieces of bread for me. So the other guys were jealous, so I said, “Boss, this is for all of us?” So he said, “No, everybody will have just little piece. It’s just for Jake, for Jacob. It’ll be okay.” I can say that thanks to this German, I survived the war.

Believe it or not, after the liberation, I took food to his house. In Munich. I came to Munich. And by accident some friends met him. He asked about me. I was sick after that. And he gave the address, and after the war I spoke English at that time, a little bit of English, I went to the American kitchens and I got food and I took it to his house.

I was in that labor camp, I don’t want to go into details, it will take too long. There was an epidemic of typhus broke out, we were quarantined, so we couldn’t go out to work, I couldn’t go to work, I didn’t get any food from the German. We got our bread it was all green, the bread that we got was green, you know, old. So the first time I got a piece of bread it was all moldy, green, I thought I had a smart idea. I put the bread in a can and put in water, I thought the stuff will go on top, I’ll skim it off, and I’ll have decent bread. What happened was I got a can of mud. I had to pour out the whole thing, I couldn’t eat it. The next day, when I got the same bread, we just ate so the dust was coming out of our mouths, when we were eating it, all that mold.

Then we got potatoes. They were rotten potatoes, the peel just peeled off, it was stinking like hell. So we would flatten it out like this (claps hands together, one over the other) put it on a little stove. It was stinking like hell, I’m telling you. The minute you put it on that little stove, it all got white, that starch got white.

I’ll never forget this time, we used to get every other Sunday free. We worked thirteen days in a row, the fourteenth we were free. I remember that one day we were free, all of sudden the camp director, the camp commandant, came in the barracks. Our barracks were in the ground, only the gable was sticking out of the ground and it was covered with grass and sod so the airplanes, the American airplanes, who were coming during the day, so they wouldn’t know that there’s a camp.

He wanted to walk in, but that stench from those potatoes blew him back. He says, “What are you doing here?” So we told him. “How do you do it?” So we told him. So he says, “Without salt?” So I said, “We don’t have any salt.” So he gave an order to the kitchen to give us some salt so we could put salt on those stinking potatoes.

On the 24th of April, 1945, they evacuated us from that camp. People died when the epidemic of the typhus broke out.

QUESTION: Did you get typhus?

I didn’t get typhus. I got sick at the time because, see, the lice were the ones that transmit it. The dirt and the lice, our bodies were all scratched, they were sucking our blood. So they sent in a delousing thing that was in February, like, there was  snow, we had to get undressed naked, run to the thing there, wash with cold water, there was DDT or whatever they sprayed and they sealed our bags and let some gas in there to kill the lice, with our clothes in there, too. At that time I caught a cold or something, running through there. I had a fever, so they thought I also had typhus. So they put me into a room with all those typhus people

I’ll never forget it as long as I live. We were double bunks, I was on the top bunk. There was little space, then another couple guys. On top there was a Jew from Lithuania. The first night I wake up, there was a little light hanging in the barracks there. And they were moaning, people were talking, they were delirious, you know. I wake up, and I take a look, this guy, this Lithuanian Jew, he was the head of our barracks, there were 50 people in a barrack, he was the head of barrack. He’s sitting up and talking. I didn’t know he was delirious. He’s sitting there like this (Jake rocks back and forth in demonstration), he says, “Ja, three kilograms of fat, not butter, fat, they stole from me,” he says. “Three kilograms of fat they stole.”

I say, “Mister Fischer, who stole it from you?” He looks at me, he says, “Are you normal? If I knew who stole it, I’m going to take it back.” And then he starts screaming that they took away his wooden clogs that we wore. I didn’t say anything, and then he started screaming a name, Sima. Looks like it was his wife. He was older than I. That scream, “See-Mah” like went to my heart, that voice the way he called. Another guy there was also delirious, he said, “Stop with the Sima, all day long it’s Sima.” I’m telling you it was like hell.

The next morning the doctor came in. He came straight to me to look if I had spots, you know, typhus had spots. He saw I didn’t have any spots so luckily he took me out of there. That’s how I survived. He took me out of there.

With the quarantine, we were locked in there. The Germans brought us some soup. They left it about a hundred yards away and left. A few guys had to go out there and bring it in. They were afraid of coming close.

Read the entire Holocaust Survivor series.