He was running across our rows for the first time. He was creating a new block out of us, the “zugangs” (new arrivals.) He was seeking, among unknown people, some men to keep order in the block. Fate willed it that he chose me, he choose Karol Swietorzecki (a reserve officer of 13th cavalry regiment,) Witold Rozycki (a good fellow from Warsaw,) and several others.
He quickly introduced us into the block, on the upper story, ordering us to line in rows along the wall, to do about-turns, and to lean forward. He “thrashed” each of us with five blows for all his worth, in the place apparently assigned for that purpose. We had to clench our teeth tightly, so that no groan would get out…
The examination came off – as it seemed to me – well. “Mind you know how it tastes and mind you operate your sticks in this way while taking care of tidiness and order in your block.”
In this way I became room supervisor (“Stubendienst”), but not for long. Although we kept an exemplary order and tidiness, Alois did not like the methods we tried to achieve it. He warned us several times, personally and through Kazik (a confident of Alois,) and when it was of no use, he went mad and evicted some of us into the camp area for three days, saying: “Let you taste the work in the camp and better appreciate the roof and quiet you have in the block”. I knew that less and less number people returned from work day by day – I knew they were “done away” at this work or another, but not until then I was to learn it to my detriment, what a working day of an ordinary prisoner in the camp looked like. Nevertheless, all were obliged to work. Only room supervisors were allowed to remain in blocks.
[Living conditions. Order of the day. Quasi-food. “To go to the wires”.]
We all slept side by side on the floor on straw mattresses. In the initial period, we had no beds at all. The day commenced for all of us with a sound of gong, in summer at 4:20 AM, in winter at 3:20. Upon that sound, which was voiced an inexorable command – we sprung to our feet. We quickly folded our blankets, carefully aligning their edges. The straw mattress was to be carried to one end of the room, where “mattress men” took it in order to put it into a stacked pile. The blanket was handed in at the exit from the room to the “blanket man.” We finished putting on our clothes in the corridor. All that was done running, in haste, but then the Bloody Alois, shouting “Fenster auf !” used to burst with his stick into the hall, and you had to hurry to take your place in a long queue to the toilet. In the initial period, we had no toilets in blocks.
In the evening we ran to several latrines, where up to two hundred people used to line up in a queue. There were few places. A kapo stood with a rod and counted up to five. Whoever was late to get up in time, had his head beaten with a stick. More than a few prisoners fell in the pit.
From the latrines we rushed to the pumps, several of which were placed on the square (there were no baths in blocks in the initial period.) Several thousand people had to wash themselves under the pumps. Of course, it was impossible. You forced your way to the pump, and catch some water in your dixy. But your legs must have been clean in the evening.
Block supervisors on their tour inspections in evenings, when the “room supervisor” reported the number of prisoners lying in straw mattresses, checked the cleanness of legs, which had to be put out from under blankets up, so that the “sole” would be visible. If a leg was not sufficiently clean, or if the block supervisor wished to deem it to be such – the delinquent was beaten on a stool. He received from 10 to 20 blows with a stick.
It was one of the ways for us to be done for, effected under the veil of hygiene. Just as it was doing for us, the devastation of organisms in latrines by actions done in pace and by order, the nerve-fraying stir at the pumps, the ever-lasting haste and “Laufschritt,” (trot) applied everywhere in the initial period of the camp.
From the pump, all ran aside, for the so-called coffee or tea. The liquid was hot, I admit, brought in pots to the rooms, but it imitated those beverages ineffectively. An ordinary, plain prisoner saw no sugar at all. I noticed that some colleagues, who had been here for several months, had swelled faces and legs. Doctors told that the reason was an excess of liquids. Kidneys or heart broke down – a huge effort of the organism by physical work, with parallel consumption of nearly everything in liquid: coffee, tea, and soup! I decided to give up liquids of no advantage.
In general, you should keep your whims under control. Some did not want to stop the hot liquids, because of the cold. Things were worse regarding smoking, as in the initial period of our stay in the camp, a prisoner had no money, as he was not allowed to write a letter at once. He waited for a long time for that, and about three months had passed before a reply came in. Who was not able to control himself and exchanged bread for cigarettes, he was already “digging his own grave”. I knew many such ones – all of them went by the board.
There were no graves. All dead bodies were burnt in a newly erected crematorium. Thus, I did not hurry for hot slops. Others pushed their way, thus giving a reason to be beaten and kicked.
Photographs courtesy of Joel Schalit.