SICK AT HEART, AND PHYSICALLY ILL, I started my long voyage homeward. The trip was not a pleasant one: everywhere I looked I saw, where flourishing cities and towns had once stood, nothing but gutted ruins and the collective, white-crossed graves of the dead.
I dreaded the truth, fearing to return to an empty, plundered home, a home where neither parents nor wife, daughter nor sister, would be waiting to greet me with warmth and affection. Persecution and sorrow, the horrors of the crematorium and funeral pyres, my eight months in the kommando of the living dead, had dulled my sense of good and evil.
I felt that I should rest, try to regain my strength. But, I kept asking myself, for what? On the one hand, illness racked my body; on the other, the bloody past froze my heart. My eyes had followed countless innocent souls to the gas chambers, witnessed the unbelievable spectacle of the funeral pyres. And I myself, carrying out the orders of a demented doctor, had dissected hundreds of bodies, so that a science based on false theories might benefit from the deaths of those millions of victims. I had cut the flesh of healthy young girls and prepared nourishment for the mad doctor’s bacteriological cultures. I had immersed the bodies of dwarfs and cripples in calcium chloride, or had them boiled so that the carefully prepared skeletons might safely reach the Third Reich’s museums to justify, for future generations, the destruction of an entire race. And even though all this was now past, I would still have to cope with it in my thoughts and dreams. I could never erase these memories from my mind.
At least twice I had felt the wings of death brush by me: once, prostrate on the ground, with a company of SS trained in the art of summary execution poised above me, I had escaped unharmed. But three thousand of my friends, who had also known the terrible secrets of the crematoriums, had not been so lucky. I had marched for hundreds of kilometers through fields of snow, fighting the cold, hunger, and my own exhaustion, merely to reach another concentration camp. The road I had traveled had indeed been long.
Now, home again, nothing. I wandered aimlessly through silent rooms. Free, but not from my bloody past, nor from the deep-rooted grief that filled my mind and gnawed at my sanity. And the future seemed just as dark. I walked like my own ghost, a restless figure in the once familiar streets. The only times I managed to shake off my state of depression and lethargy was when, mistakenly, I thought for a fleeting second that someone I saw or briefly encountered on the street was a member of my family.
One afternoon, several weeks after my return, I felt chilly and sat down near the fireplace, hoping to derive a little comfort from the cheerful glow that filled the room. It grew late; dusk was falling. The doorbell roused me from my daydreams. Before I could get up to answer it my wife and daughter burst into the room!
They were in good health and had just been freed from Bergen-Belsen, one of the most notorious of the extermination camps. But that was as much as they were able to tell me before breaking down. For hours they sobbed uncontrollably. I was content just to hold them in my arms, while the flood of their grief flowed from their tortured minds and hearts. Their sobs, a language I was well familiar with, slowly subsided.
We had much to do, much to relate, much to rebuild. I knew it would take much time and infinite patience before we could resume any sort of really normal life. But all that mattered was that we were alive . . . and together again. Life suddenly became meaningful again. I would begin practicing, yes . . . But I swore that as long as I lived I would never lift a scalpel again. . . .
The quarantine camp was that area to which the prisoners selected for the right-hand column were first sent. They were kept there till they had bathed, been disinfected and shaved, and had traded their civilian clothes for a prisoner’s burlap. Later they were sent to various sections throughout the camp.—Tr.
Hoess, the camp commander, testified at Nuremberg that the camp held 140,000 prisoners when filled to capacity.—Tr.
Kapo is the abbreviation of Kamaradschafts Polizei. The Kapo-in-chief was generally a German prisoner serving a sentence for some non-political crime. A few of them tried to ease the lot of their fellow sufferers, but most were the faithful servants of the SS.—Tr.
Dr. Nyiszli came to the United States in the summer of 1939, and remained until February of 1940, as a member of the Rumanian delegation to the World’s Fair. He had intended to bring his family over and settle in America. But during his stay war broke out and he returned to his family. Once back, it was impossible for him to leave the country again. As a result, Auschwitz.—Tr.
In reply to a query concerning the origin and composition of cyclon gas, Dr. Nyiszli wrote that it was manufactured during the war by the I. G. Farben Co., and that, although it was classified as Geheimmittel, that is, confidential or secret, he was able to ascertain that the name “cyclon” came from the abbreviation of its essential elements: cyanide, chlorine and nitrogen. During the Nuremberg trials the Farben Co. claimed that it had been manufactured only as a disinfectant. However, as Dr. Nyiszli pointed out in his testimony, there were two types of cyclon in existence, type A and type B. They came in identical containers; only the marking A and B differentiated them. Type A was a disinfectant; type B was used to exterminate millions.—Tr.