In the German extermination camp Auschwitz (Bella Szidlowski-Tekel)
From Wislica to the extermination camp
Auschwitz - Birkenau
By Bella Szidlowski-Tekel
(Translated by Sara Mages)
The Germans entered Wislica on 8 September, 1939. The day before, the Poles gathered wood to barricade the roads to hinder the Germans' entrance to the town, but of course, it didn't help much. My family, who owned a lumber business, was ordered the day before the occupation to leave the area and move to another location. We fulfilled the order and hid in a cellar of a house in another street. We saw them out of the window and heard loud shots. When they quieted our mother said: “Let's go to our house and see what happened there”. When we arrived to the place, we saw our house and our belongings going up in flames. Meanwhile, a German soldier came to us riding a motorcycle. He stopped us, aimed his pistol at us, and asked for the reason of our visit to this place. We explained the matter to him and he was satisfied with that. Our whole family hid in the cellar: my mother, three married sisters with their husbands and children, two brothers, and I.
The ill-treatment of the Jewish population began a few days after the occupation. German army guards passed through the town and ordered all of us to come out. Everyone gathered in a large plot near the town, but this time we were allowed to return quietly to town. The Jews were not allowed to leave their homes at night. The local “Gestapo”, which was based in the nearby town of Nowy-Korczyn, appointed commissars on Jewish businesses. They were Poles or “Polkes-Deutsche” (Germans, residents of Poland).The Jewish merchants, who wanted to travel locally, needed a special license to do so. Otherwise, they were prevented from going out of town.
Before long, the decree to bear the “Yellow Patch” was imposed on us, and the Germans also appointed a “Judenrat” [Jewish council]. Life in town became very difficult and the decrees, mainly on economic background, increased. Also refugees from other cities arrived to our town. A communal kitchen was established to meet the needs of these refugees and the needs of the needy from our town. I worked as a volunteer in this kitchen. Some time later, the Germans started to take Jews out for various force labor in town, and here and there, also occasional murders occurred.
A special license, which was known by the name “Bezogsheina”, was needed to purchase merchandise. These licenses weren't given to the Jews but to the Poles. Having no other choice, we were forced to use the Poles' help for this purpose, and they have done it for a fee. Once, “Gestapo” men saw merchandise being delivered to us. I was taken by them for an investigation to the town of Busk, a distance of about 12km from Wislica. Since I was already considered a suspect in the eyes of the Germans, I was taken for an additional investigation a few weeks later. It happened after the sudden disappearance of merchandise that was confiscated by them. This time the investigation was very difficult. The Germans beat me. The beating continued until another German entered and calmed things down. I was sent home again. A few weeks later I was arrested again, but this time my road didn't lead me back home, but through Kalisz to the extermination camp in Auschwitz. I was the first and only woman from Wislica to be sent to Auschwitz. The others were transferred later, on July 1942, to the extermination camp of Treblinka. Since then and until the end of the war, I haven't seen our town again, but I always thought about her in my dreams and when I woke up. I vowed in my heart to do everything I could to stay alive and meet someone from my family. I survived, but none of my family members did. When I left them it never occurred to me that we would never meet again.
In Auschwitz Camp
Life in Auschwitz was difficult in all aspects. I don't have the strength to describe everything that happened to me or to other prisoners. Hard labor, life of hunger and degeneration, insults and cruel beatings were our share, and the weak among us fell one by one. Block number 25 was famous in Auschwitz. It was the “Death Hut”. The sick, the weak, and the elderly were concentrated there. They left for work from there and usually never returned.
Immediately after I was brought to Auschwitz I was sent together with other women to an attic. A roll call was held in the morning, our heads were shaved, and we were ordered to dress in prisoner uniform. They were a stripped-dress and wooden clogs. We really didn't recognize each other. They employed us loading sand on “Lares” (small carts that were used for this purpose), and also by bringing bricks and digging pits. “Gestapo” men and their dogs accompanied us on our way to work, and not once the Germans set the dogs on us. Quite a few prisoners fell on the way or brought back to camp in a state of dying. The prisoners were beaten until the bled and many fainted. Indeed, it was necessary to be an “expert” so as not to be beaten by the hands of the Germans. Selections were held among the prisoners almost every day, and sometimes also twice a day. It was only by chance that a person survived or sent immediately to the gas chamber. It is difficult to describe the brutalities of the “Kapo”. These positions were filled by Germans and Poles, and to our shame, sometimes by Jews. The women, who were assigned for this duty, excelled in their cruelty. They were German and Polish women.
Roll calls were usually held in the morning and in the afternoon, and in exceptional cases also at noon. I remember that a rumor spread around the camp that a Belgian woman by the name of Male suddenly disappeared. The search for her began immediately, and she was found sitting in a restaurant in a nearby town. She was brought back to Auschwitz and the prisoners were ordered to come and watch how she was led to her hanging. Male tried to cut the veins in her wrists. She shouted “Murderers!”, “Take revenge on these murderers!” Later on, she was led to the gas chamber where she found her death. I also saw how men and women were executed or brought into the gas chambers and “Zyklon” gas was turned on them. I remember that in 1944 we suddenly heard the news that a revolt is going break in the camp. It became clear that weapons were stolen from the “Union” [ammunition] factory. Three young Jewish women were captured by the Germans and executed before us. At that time, a depressing mood prevailed in camp and we didn't know what the day will bring.
“Transports” to the sound of music
New “transports” arrived to the camp almost every day. The music played and the newcomers didn't know what was waiting for them. There were those who believed that they came to work and will be able to rest from the horror of the “Ghetto”. Not ones we heard the shouts “Shema Yisrael” and “God this is my end” coming from the gas chambers. This situation continued until January 1945, when rumors started to arrive to the camp that the Germans' end is near, so our hope increased that we will be able to go through the horrors of the war. Suddenly, we were ordered to pack our belongings. We were led for six days and six nights to Ravensbrück Camp [Germany] where we stayed for a few weeks. From there our road led us to Neustadt-Glewe Camp [Germany]. This camp was captured by the Soviet Army and we were released after the hardship that we endured for a long period of time. We didn't believe that we were allowed to enjoy freedom or normal life. We were broken in body and soul and full of worries for our future.We will never forget our life in Auschwitz, life of hunger and sufferings, the acts of murder and abuse. We will never forget the sights of hangings, and I remember the gas chambers even today.
When I returned to town I found a few Jews there. Among them was Ester Weisfield who is now with us in Israel. The Poles were surprised and asked me “Are you still alive?” and “Why did you come here?” The Germans desecrated the cemetery and used the gravestones to pave the town's sidewalks. With difficulties I found the burial place of my father Avraham. He passed away short of the age of 40, before the war and the horrors. These lines will also serve as a memorial candle for him, my mother Sara, my sisters Chana, Elka and Mindel and their family members, and my brothers Yisrael, Meir and Eliezer David, who were sent to Treblinka and never returned. May the Lord avenge their blood.
Fate wanted that I will survive, be rewarded to continue my life in Israel, and establish a family there. My heart will never forget the memory of “those days”, days full of anxiety, grief and sufferings.
In the communal kitchen
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Updated 31 Dec 2010 by LA