Chapter XIV

THE FOLLOWING MORNING I AWOKE wondering what revelation the new day would bring. For here each new day had its revelation, one more horrible than anything a normal person could ever have dreamed of.

I learned from the Sonder, who invariably managed to have all the latest information, that the KZ was in strict quarantine. This meant that no one could leave the barracks. SS soldiers and their police dogs were out in full force. Today they were going to liquidate the Czech Camp.

The Czech Camp consisted of about 15,000 deportees brought from the Theresienstadt ghetto. Like the Gypsy Camp, it had a family air about it. The deportees had not been “selected” upon arrival, but sent intact to their quarters. All, no matter what their age or physical condition, had been allowed to keep their clean clothes and live together. Their lot was hard, but not unbearable. Unlike the other sections, they did not work.

Thus they had lived for two years, till the hour for their extermination arrived, as sooner or later it arrived for everybody in the KZ. At Auschwitz it was never a question of whether you would live or die, but merely a question of time, of when you would die. No one escaped. The trainloads of Hungarian deportees, or, to use the expression current in the KZ, the “freight,” arrived in a steady flow, sometimes two trainloads at a time, and disgorged their passengers. For them the ubiquitous Dr. Mengele dispensed with the customary formality of selection. He stood there like a statue, his arm always pointing in the same direction: to the left. Thus whole trainloads were expedited to the gas chambers and pyres.

The quarantine camp, C Camp, D Camp and the F section were terribly overcrowded, despite the quotas which were filled daily for shipment to more distant camps. In the Czech Camp both the children and aged had been greatly weakened by their two-year ordeal: the children’s bodies were mere skin and bones, and the elderly prisoners were so weak they could scarcely walk. Both had to relinquish their places to new arrivals who were still strong enough to work.

During the preceding weeks their situation had steadily worsened. When the first Hungarian convoys had begun arriving their rations had been sharply reduced. Then, a few weeks later, when the stream of new deportees had swelled to flood proportions, the camp authorities had found themselves faced with a serious shortage of food. As usual, their remedy had been both drastic and efficient: they had practically suppressed the Czech Camp rations altogether.

Hunger had reduced the prisoners to raving, moaning maniacs. Within a few days their already weakened organisms had disintegrated entirely. Diarrhea, dysentery and typhus had begun their deadly work. Fifty or sixty deaths a day was normal. Their last days were spent in indescribable suffering, till at last death came and set them free.

The closing of all barracks was ordered early in the morning. Several hundred SS soldiers surrounded the Czech area and ordered the inmates to assemble. Their cries of terror as they were loaded onto the waiting vans were terrible to hear, for after two years in the KZ they no longer had any illusions about what lay in store for them. “Liquidation Day” found some 12,000 prisoners left in the Czech Camp. From among that number 1,500 able-bodied men and women were chosen, along with eight physicians. The rest were sent to number two and number three crematoriums. On the following day the Czech Camp was silent and deserted. I saw a truck loaded with ashes leave the crematorium and head towards the Vistula.

Thus the Auschwitz muster rolls were reduced by more than 12,000 “units,” and one more bloody page was added to the Auschwitz archives. That page contained only the following brief inscription: “The Czech section of the Auschwitz concentration camp was liquidated this date due to a prevalence of typhus among the prisoners. Signed: Dr. Mengele, Hauptsturmführer I Lagerazt.”

The eight physicians from the Czech Camp who, thanks to Dr. Epstein’s intervention, had been spared, were sent to the F Camp’s hospital barracks, either because they were physically and mentally exhausted after their superhuman efforts in caring for their fellow-prisoners, or because they were infected with typhus.

On the day following the liquidation of the Czech Camp I paid an official visit to F Camp. There I met the eight doctors who had escaped death and had a chance to talk with them, and in particular with Dr. Heller, whose name was well known in medical circles. From his lips I learned the full story of the suffering and death of Czechoslovakia’s Jewish elite. Since then, all eight have perished. They were true doctors. I hold their memory in deep esteem.

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