Chapter XXXV

CONDEMNED TO THAT REGION MIDWAY between hope and despair, we safely reached the first of January, 1945. Snow still blanketed the countryside as far as the eye could see. I left the crematorium to take a short walk around the courtyard.

Suddenly the purr of a powerful motor reached my ears, and a moment later a large brown van appeared. Used to transport prisoners, this van was called “Brown Toni” by the camp inmates, for it was painted a dark brownish color. A tall officer got out. I recognized him as Dr. Klein, an SS major, one of the evil, bloody-handed KZ officials. I came to attention and gave him the regulation salute. He had brought a hundred new victims from KZ Barracks number 10, that is, the camp prison.

“Here’s some work to start the New Year with,” he told the Ober who hurried up to greet him.

The Ober was so drunk he could hardly stand up. He had apparently gone all out celebrating the New Year. Who knows, perhaps he had merely been steeling himself against the guards’ impending end. At any rate, it was evident from his expression that he was not at all pleased to learn he had been given a bloody job to perform on New Year’s Day. A hundred Polish prisoners, Christian men all, had been brought here to be murdered. SS guards took them to an empty room next to the furnace room and ordered them to undress immediately. Dr. Klein and the Ober, meanwhile, took a stroll around the courtyard.

I hastened to where the prisoners were undressing and began questioning them as to the reasons for their imprisonment. One of them told me he had given refuge to one of his relatives, at his home in Krakau. The Gestapo had accused him of aiding partisans and brought him to trial before a court-martial. While awaiting sentence, he had been sent to Barracks 10. Although he did not yet know it, the court had already condemned him to death. That was why he was here. He was under the mistaken impression, however, that he had been brought here for a shower before being assigned to a forced labor battalion.

Another had been imprisoned for having aided and abetted inflation. A serious offense, to be sure. Just what had his crime been? Why, he had bought a pound of butter on the black market. A third had been jailed for having wandered into a forbidden zone. They had accused him of being a partisan spy. It was much the same story everywhere I asked: minor slips and infractions of the law turned into fabulous, trumped-up charges.

Now that there was no longer any Sonderkommando, the SS guards led the men to the Ober’s revolver.

Again, the sound of “Brown Toni’s” powerful motor. A hundred new victims arrived, all women, quite well dressed. They were sent to the same room where, only a few minutes before, the men had undressed. Then one by one the women were also taken to the Ober’s waiting gun. They too were Polish Christians; they too paid with their lives for minor infractions of the law.

The cremation was carried out by the SS, who asked me to furnish them with rubber gloves for the job.

As soon as he had made quite certain, in viso, that the 200 prisoners had been duly executed, Dr. Klein left the crematorium. There was nothing contradictory about the order of November 17th forbidding the practice of violent death, and today’s slaughter. On the contrary, all the SS had just done was to carry out the sentences tendered by a duly constituted court-martial.

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