Cover image for We were in Auschwitz
We were in Auschwitz
Nel Siedlecki, Janusz.
Personal Author:
Uniform Title:
Byliśmy w Oświęcimiu. English
First Welcome Rain edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Welcome Rain Publishers, [2000]

Physical Description:
195 pages ; 22 cm
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Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Central Library D805.5.A96 N45 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Written in 1945 by three young Polish former inmates of Auschwitz -- Janisz Nel Siedlecki, Krystyn Olszewski, and Tadeusz Borowski, author of This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen -- and published in the spring of 1946 by a fourth, Anatol Girs, a graphic artist and publisher whose publishing company in Warsaw had been bombed during the Uprising, We Were in Auschwitz is, if not the first, then one of the very first books ever written about the horrors of the Nazi concentration camp. Dedicated to the American Seventh Army, this work originally appeared in Polish in an edition of 10,000 numbered copies, unspecified numbers of which were bound in material cut from concentration camp stripes and from SS uniforms.

The inspiration for writing a book which could tell the truth about Auschwitz came from the conditions in immediately-post-war Munich in which the authors found themselves, and was articulated by Janusz Nel Siedlecki in his 1994 memoir, Beyond Lost Dreams: "As the one common enemy disappeared, so vanished all moral rules and restraints. Individuals, as well as large groups, competed for food, recognition, and a better life. The polish people were divided into innumberable factions .... The survivors carried forth their banners of "martyrdom" and sowed the seeds of future legends. They wanted glory -- I wanted to bear witness for the tortured, gassed, burnt; for all the unknown, unnamed, already forgotten dead."

The publication history of We Were in Auschwitz reflects both the physical chaos that followed the end of the war in Europe and the political situation in Poland and in the U.S. Having written the book in their requisitioned apartment in Munich, the authors neededAmerican permission to publish it. "There was no printing without an official permit, and

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

This firsthand account of the authors' experiences in the Auschwitz concentration camp was first published in 1946 in Polish in a limited edition. Although this English translation doesn't specify which of the three authors wrote which pieces, four selections from Borowski's chilling "This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen" are included. The three authors recount such horrors as the work of prisoners who helped unload the incoming transports of people destined for the gas chambers. They watched as thousands of naked Jews and Gypsies went apathetically and without resistance to their deaths; saw the mountains of food, medicine, and clothing these helpless victims left behind; and tell of stepping over mounds of people--some dead, some dying--the result of hunger, disease, freezing cold, and beatings. They tell of seeing prisoners killed for stealing a couple of raw potatoes and of cars filled with food stolen for the families of the SS men. "We survived," they write, "though we were neither better nor worse than those who died. But we do not want the dead to be forgotten." --George Cohen

Publisher's Weekly Review

Originally compiled in 1945 by three Polish gentiles who spent time in Nazi camps for their "political crimes," this account describes life in Auschwitz with a chilling immediacy. Translated now for the first time into English by Nitecki (Recovered Land), the book is a collection of writings (some of which appeared in This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen, a collection Borowski edited shortly before his suicide in 1951) on various aspects of camp life. All the memoirs detail, in spare, unsentimental prose, the unthinkable activities the prisoners embraced in order to survive: inmates sorted through the valuables of the dead; Kapos did not hesitate to murder other inmates so that they could go on living; doctors in the so-called camp hospitals were more likely to kill than treat the seriously ill. There's a devastating description of one Christmas Eve: after watching starving Gypsy children get chased away from piles of bread, the narrator indulges in a meal of stolen food. Here is stark depiction of a chaotic and cruel reality, made even worse by the absence of morality, charity or fellowship. There were, according to these survivors, no heroes at Auschwitz; those who did not die became "totally familiar with the inexplicable and the abnormal" and "learned to live on intimate terms with the crematoria." This is an important addition to Holocaust studies, but not for those who choose to see survival in Auschwitz as a triumph of the human spirit. (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

The books under review represent both the earliest and most recent of Holocaust memoirs. We Were in Auschwitz was written by a trio of former inmates in 1945, the most famous of whom was Tadusz Borowski, author of This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen. The book gives an insightful depiction of camp life, in particular the use and meaning of such slang terms as "Canada" (which refers to "prosperity," or the looted wealth stored at Auschwitz). The brutality of daily life and the guilt of survival come through clearly. Published in Poland in 1946 and translated in its entirety for the first time, this book is a welcome addition to Holocaust literature. Conversely, Samson's memoir appears to have been written only recently. The author, her mother, and two siblings survived in hiding for three years with the help of a Christian family. (Samson now lives in Baltimore.) Her story gives important insight into the nature of Polish collaboration with the Nazis. Although her story is well written and deserves to be told, the subtitle, "A Child's View of the Holocaust," is inaccurate. Since the book is apparently not based on a diary or notes written at the time, it is really not a child's view but rather a recollection of her experiences. Although it might seem a trivial point, it is important to realize that little Holocaust literature actually speaks to us with a child's voice. Both books are recommended for public and academic libraries.DFrederic Krome, Jacob Rader Marcus Ctr. of the American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One AT THE JUNCTURE OF THE SOLA AND THE VISTULA Oswiecim -- the famous KL Auschwitz. The German concentration camp near the little town of Oswiecim, which lies about forty kilometers west of Kraków on Polish land grafted on to the Reich and created at first as an extermination camp -- Vernichtungslager -- only for Poles.     In the spring of 1940 came the first transports: about a hundred long-term prisoners from German concentration camps, mainly professional criminals, who were assigned to assume all the camp functions and who were given unlimited power over the prisoners, and about a thousand Poles from the prison in Tarnów. These were almost exclusively "tourists" captured on the Hungarian border on their way to the Polish army in France. Shortly afterward the first and second "Warsaw" transports arrived, altogether about two thousand people. These had been taken off the streets during the first roundups in Warsaw, which in their incongruity had created, at the beginning, such a terrible sensation in the city. In the fall, Auschwitz accounted for six thousand, and then in spring 1941, ten thousand people. At first the prisoners were kept in former army barracks, and then a Lager -- a camp -- was built, the ground was leveled, ponds filled in, local houses demolished.     The area, idyllic and peaceful till now, became depopulated, deadened. Within a radius of many kilometers, within reach of the guards and beyond, no one from the free world can gain entry. Houses stand empty, fields unsown; in the marshes and the ponds neighboring Lagers arise. Huts, and next to them the penal colony for women, Harmenz, Ogrodnictwo Rajsko z Instytutem Botanicznym -- the Rajsko nursery gardens and Botanical Institute -- and, above all, the terrible Birkenau begins to grow, crematoria are built, the railroad comes up to the camp and an "internal" ramp arises, intended for transports. No one from the outside will now see people going to the gas.     In fall 1941, transports of "the fruits of war" arrive, (Soviet POWs) numbering about ten thousand (in 1942, only a few hundred of them remained, and in 1944, around fifty). In 1942 part of the camp was fenced off and reserved for women. At about the same time, typhus broke out; many thousands of people died of it.     In spring 1942, a new camp was opened, the so-called Auschwitz II, situated on the land of the Rajsko estate near Brzezinka -- Birkenau, three kilometers away from "Old" Auschwitz. In this same period, Auschwitz's fantastic career begins: an "internal" Polish camp nobody knows changes into an enormous international extermination camp for many millions of European Jews.     In 1943 four huge crematoria began to work. Previously they had gassed people in an ordinary country barn, appropriately sealed, that could hold up to five hundred people at a time. In June 1943, a record was reached: within a period of twenty-four hours, twenty-three thousand people were gassed. They were burned in ovens and on enormous pyres. Children, the elderly, and the sick were thrown, alive, into the fire. Human screams from behind the famous little birch forest could be heard without interruption for whole weeks at a time.     Numbers assigned to ordinary prisoners -- Schutzhäftlinge -- rose above the twenty thousand figure, and with that, one must remember that in a certain period numbers belonging to the dead were reassigned. Numbers given to ordinary prisoners of Jewish descent -- Series A -- twenty thousand, and as many in Series B. These numbers started to be given out in June 1944. Numbers given to Soviet POWs in the eleven thousands. Numbers given to the men and women in the Gypsy camp in the eleven thousands with the letter Z for Ziguener . Temporary prisoners or " Erziehungshäftlinge ," educable ones, in the several thousand. The numbering of women -- FKL Frauenkonzentrationslager -- at one hundred thousand. The transports arriving from the evacuation of Warsaw after the Uprising were only given numbers at first.     Altogether, there were about 400 thousand numbered prisoners. Probably around twenty-five thousand remained alive, that is 6 percent. Around 4.5 million unnumbered were burned. Auschwitz was planned for about three hundred thousand living people, and for how many dead ones is not known.     Money, valuables, shoes, gold, the entire personal wealth of the murdered went to Germany for the internal needs of the nation. Chapter Two WITH A BAEDECKER AMONG THE WIRES I was a political prisoner in Montelupich Street prison in Kraków. Despite isolation from the world, despite heavy guard, gossip, news, and, sometimes, papers seeped through the prison walls. There, I got to know Pomorska Street where the Gestapo was; I learned the name Bielany, a place of execution. There, I heard for the first time about the newly established camp in Auschwitz. Slowly, from hints from the guards, from smuggled letters, from attendants' tales, we forged for ourselves some kind of image of a concentration camp. It was not a complete image, an impression, rather, of something as terrible as it was unknown.     A few months later, I was to compare that impression with the reality. I was transported to the camp in November 1940. I left Auschwitz in October 1944. Auschwitz was built while I was there; while I was there, they began to liquidate it. It seems to me that I got to know well the structure of that modern feature of European culture, the concentration camp. With Auschwitz as my example, I will try to capture that structure in words.     A concentration camp consists of a certain number of "residential houses," most frequently wooden, known as Blocks. These Blocks are laid out symmetrically along the camp streets, and they surround the Appelplatz . On the Appelplatz, roll calls are held to ascertain the number of prisoners, these are called Appel , and work details, Kommandos , in other words, assemble there before marching out to work. The camp is surrounded by two rows of electrified barbed wire, which are illuminated at night by powerful lamps. A three-meterwide neutral strip runs the length of the wires. If a prisoner finds himself in this strip, the guards have the duty to shoot him without warning. Behind the wires, a guard tower can be found, equipped with machine guns and reflectors, independent of the system of lamps. There is only one gate, guarded day and night by SS men. By the gate, may be found the guardhouse, known as the Blockführerstube . In Auschwitz, there were two-story brick buildings, and on the other side, where the civilians were, a large cement wall was built. Birkenau was completely wooden, apart from some of the Blocks in the women's camp.     The leading authority in the camp is the Kommandant , whose right-hand man is the so-called camp leader. To him, in turn, report the director of the camp Appels, and, finally, the leaders, or more precisely, the superintendents of the Blocks, the ordinary SS men. Apart from these basic leaders, others existed in the camp, ostensibly answering to the Kommandant, but possessing a certain independence. This arrangement allowed the cleverer prisoner to navigate between bad authorities and unpleasant orders. There was the work office, directed by the Arbeitsdienstführer , which means the leader of the workforce; there is a camp hospital, which answers to the camp doctor, whose subordinates are the nursing chiefs, the SDG ; a kitchen and warehouse, having their own completely independent administration and control; there is an all-powerful "Building Administration" with a Bauleiter at its head; and so on.     At the same time, there exists a prisoners' self-government, which serves to help the German powers and is appointed by them. All the positions conform strictly to the positions of the SS who administer the camp. The Lagerführer's assistant, then, is a prisoner who supervises the whole camp, and who, to distinguish him from the others, is equipped with a black band with white letters LÄ for Lagerältester . The Raportführer is assisted by the camp scribe, the so-called Raportschreiber , who also wears a black band with beautifully embroidered letters. He runs the entire camp office, he manages the prisoners's files, the death books, writes down the new arrivals, prepares roll calls, supervises the conditions of the Blocks, is the camp's main bookkeeper. The actual administrators of the Blocks are the Blockführers . The Lagerältester KB stands at the helm of the hospital, the Krankenbau . The assistants to the SS man in charge of labor are the Arbeitsdienst men, and so on. The work details are directed by the Kommandoführers through their Kapos and Unterkapos. These wear yellow bands with appropriate inscriptions on them and with the name of the Kommando.     The power of prisoner over prisoner was absolute, softened only by protection or friendship, and, in later years, by the ever-present threat of an end to the war. Nearly always, these positions, these "functions," were attained by people totally devoid of all scruples; people blindly devoted to the SS men; sadists; or those who either out of desire for the comforts and privileges associated with their position, or in order simply to save their own lives, did not hesitate to murder hundreds and thousands of their companions, to walk, as was said, on corpses. For this reason the name Kapo or Lagerältester was nearly always a synonym for the vilest murderer and torturer.     One has to also dispel the myth of the German political prisoner. He differed in nothing from the criminal. He was always a sophisticated murderer and, nearly always, a homosexual -- ruthless toward prisoners; servile in the extreme to an SS man, always loyal to him, always under his care, always enjoying his complete trust. He constituted the aristocracy of all the camps and was of inestimable help to the SS. These people were hated as much as the SS and aroused as much fear. There was no chance of coexistence between them and the rest of the prisoners. Rumors of crimes they had committed in Sachsenhausen, Buchenwald, Flossenbürg, Dachau followed some of them into Auschwitz.... On the basis of our experience in Auschwitz, we maintain that a great part of the responsibility for the prisoners from Europe who were murdered in German concentration camps falls on the shoulders of German political and criminal prisoners.     Prisoners arriving at the camp were, first of all, given serial numbers that after 1942 were tattooed on the left forearm, and then they were shaved, deloused, bathed, and dressed in striped clothes made out of nettles, in later times, when the number of new arrivals sometimes reached ten thousand a week, it was permissible to use civilian clothes, but only in the area of the so-called Birkenau. These clothes were marked with a red stripe of insoluble oil paint.     Of personal belongings, one could own only glasses and a belt. There were times when owning a spoon and a handkerchief was also permitted. In the period when receiving packages was allowed, the food constituted the property of the prisoner.     After leaving the showers, last name and first name vanished at the recorders table; all that was left was the camp number and, something fairly important, your profession. Depending on what crime the prisoners had committed, they received a triangle in the appropriate color, which was worn on the left breast next to the number. Political criminals had red; professional criminals, green; saboteurs, black; homosexuals, pink; and students of the holy word, violet. National origin was identified by a black letter on the triangle: P=Polish, F=French, and so on. The Germans did not wear any letter.     "Work makes man free," announced the sign on the camp gate; therefore, everyone in the camp had to work. The prisoners were divided into work units. Only a small number of them were employed in their own professions; the rest performed manual labor with a spade, a pickax, a tip-wagon. When there was no work in the camp, the prisoners performed unnecessary work, for example, turned the snow over from one side to the other, so that it took twice as long to clear the area. At first in Auschwitz, there were the following Kommandos: the famous Bauhof , where around two thousand people performed the hard and exhausting work of unloading, sorting, piling, and moving all kinds of building materials, tools, and machines; then agriculture, about a thousand wagon drivers, dairymen, swineherds, and so on, working hard but having the possibility of "organizing" food; a total of three thousand people in mechanical and shoe warehouses; the famous Holzhof , the Kommando for the weak, and many other Kommandos that there is no need to name here. Work lasted twelve hours in the summer, until twilight in the winter. During work, it was prohibited to talk, even in a whisper, to sit or to squat, to stand idle or to walk slowly. There were no work quotas, but performing the work slowly brought with it punishments.     "Anyone who does not steal, or who does not allow someone else to steal for him, will rot in Auschwitz in no less than half a year," said Aumeier, camp Kommandant, and the expression became a proverb, because it was true. With a twelve-hour workday, on their feet for eighteen hours, the prisoners in their striped uniforms, received half a liter of black coffee or mint tea in the morning; at midday, one liter of soup (depending on the season of the year, rutabaga, turnip, carrot, pumpkin, less often, kasza or potato); for dinner, about 300 grams of bread; fifty grams of fat, sausage, or marmalade; and half a liter of coffee, with sugar in it on Sundays. Twice a week, "a supplement for the hard workers," altogether a kilo and a half of bread, and around two hundred grams of cold cuts. And nothing else. Nothing. It was an amount that was absolutely insufficient to live on. After a few months, the strongest and the most resilient person lost his strength, and fell sick, went to the gas chamber, or died immediately under the SS man's or the guard's whip. In this manner, many thousands of Greek Jews from Salonica died. Of these, after several months in the camp, there remained only fourteen.     Against this background, the necessity for "organizing"--which was as much a feature of camp life as the Appel, the work, the SS, and the crematorium -- becomes clear. Organizing is the procurement of the means of survival beyond the portion or the ration. A thief steals a portion of bread from under his colleague's head, the organizer steals it from the storeroom, and steals more: loaves of bread, margarine by the carton. A thief steals a piece of cake from a friend's package, the organizer brings gingerbread from the ramp or the crematorium. The ordinary prisoner slowly dies of hunger and writes home for packages; the organizer sends his family assiduously saved banknotes.     Patently, organizing has various shades of honesty. The purest organizing hurts no one, comes from the main food warehouses, from the SS kitchen, from the farmwork, from the crematoria, and from the "Effects"--the stores of things robbed from those gassed. The trading in the warehouses in individual parts of Birkenau, were less obviously pure, while completely dirty dealings went on in the Block offices and among the food suppliers of the Blocks and so on. They cut the portions of margarine, stole sausage and bread.     There were a great variety of organizers. From the Gypsy who acquired a broom and brought it from the field to the camp in order to sell it for a bowl of soup; from the Jewish woman who sold herself for a portion of bread or for lisle stockings, through the traders in spirits carrying a flask in their trouser legs, to the bleary-eyed Jews in whose pockets lay a handful of several-carat diamonds. The organizer is not hungry, helps his colleagues, but as a result doesn't have day or night enough for business. Long after the evening gong, he comes out to the wires calling to his friend in a neighboring area to throw him the acquired goods, spirits, or eggs across the wire. He knows the value of the dollar and of gold teeth yanked out of the mouths of corpses; he knows many other camp secrets. But he keeps quiet because he knows how to value life.     The significance of organizing did not diminish at all in the period when it was permitted to receive packages. In the fall of 1942 -- at the time of the breakthrough battle of Stalingrad -- came the first distinction between the "Aryans" and the Jews: the Aryans were allowed to receive packages. The summer of 1942 was a period in which the work area of Birkenau knew absolutely no hunger, while twenty meters to the right, and two hundred diagonally across, forty thousand Hungarian-Jewish women died of hunger.     In order to make it difficult for prisoners to escape, three times a day, at first, Appels took place, assemblies of all the prisoners, the aim of which was to check on the status quo. The Appels (the first, at four or five o'clock in the morning; the second at noon; and the third, about seven in the evening) were held according to Block, and, when the camp first opened, lasted from forty-five minutes to forty-eight hours, in the later period from twenty-minutes to several hours. The Blockführers , after arranging and straightening their group, gave the command, "Attention! Caps off!" (the same command in a snowstorm as in a heat wave), and they reported the number to the Blockführer , who, after checking a few Blocks, reported it to the Raportführer . Only after that came the command, "Hats on! At ease!" A successful Appel ended with this. If, however, something didn't tally, something didn't schtimmt -- jibe -- as reported, they counted a second time, sometimes several times, and waited for the Kommandos who were late. In such cases, the Appel lasted several hours. For example, in the fall of 1941, the Appel regularly ended when it was completely dark at nine or ten o'clock. If someone was still missing, it meant that he had escaped, or, as often happened, he had been miscounted, and we stood for the whole night in order to march out to work the next day without having been given food. The longest Appel in Auschwitz (1940) lasted forty-eight hours, which means that several thousand people stood completely still outside in orderly rows. Several hundred people fell to the ground on that occasion.     For escapes, collective responsibility was introduced. If the escapee was caught, he was murdered on the spot, or in the camp; it more rarely resulted in execution by firing squad, or hanging, in the later periods. Before an execution, the condemned, dressed in a clown's costume, walked around the camp several times, beating loudly on a drum. Above him was carried a sign, "Hurrah! Hurrah! I am here again? If, however, they just brought the body back, then it was exhibited, tied to a pole or propped up with spades, by the gate under an appropriate sign, didactic in meaning. If the escapee was not caught, then ten people, chosen by the Kommandant at random from among the prisoners occupying the same Block as the escapee, were hanged. I was present twice at these selections. Two of my neighbors, young and healthy people, were taken. Then, in addition to the colleagues, the Kapo of the Kommando and the group leader were hanged. When that didn't help and escapes continued, they began to bring in and hang the escapee's closest family: his parents, wife, sisters, brothers. Only in the last period was the punishment for escape reduced and limited to beatings and the penal company; in practice, however, the beating led directly to the crematorium.     For breaking camp rules, slowness at work, lack of energy at drill, talking at work, or else a reckless loud word on the Block, the prisoners were punished immediately with beatings by the SS men, Blockführers , Kapos, or group leaders, or else reported to the camp Kommandant. The beatings varied: a blow to the face with a fist; a kick in the stomach or groin; a strike with a switch across the back; but also crushing blows with a pole; the knocking out of teeth; the breaking of ribs; the cracking open of heads. Some trained themselves to beat so that they could kill a man with a single blow.     At the Appel, obviously, to explain yourself without authority, or to present your case, led either to corporal punishment (from ten to a hundred lashes, administered by the ordinary SS or one of the officers), or to punishment on the stake. That punishment consisted of tying the hands of the condemned behind his back and hanging him with handcuffs to a gallows. The best-exercised man might endure this position for a few minutes, after which the muscles weakened and the shoulders, dislocated from their sockets, slowly turned above the head. The tortured man fainted, of course; he was then lowered, water was poured over him, and he was beaten until he regained consciousness, and, then, he was hanged again. The third punishment, was to be sent to the SK , the penal company, where there was particular rigor; the Blockführer and the Kapo were specially chosen, and the work correspondingly arduous, often lasted longer than in the rest of the camp. At the beginning of Auschwitz, the life of a man in the penal company did not last longer than one month. They say that there was a custom in the first years of the penal company of hanging a noose in the doors of the Block after the evening Appel, and prisoners voluntarily hanged themselves while the whole Block sang in chorus, " Góralu, czy ci nie zal -- Moutaineer, aren't you sorry?" There was always a crowd by the noose.     The punishment preliminary to the penal company, other than beating, was the so-called bunker, a cement cage 30 x 50 x 200 in which the prisoners were locked -- whether after work for one night, or continuously for several months -- and spent the whole time in one position without moving.     There was no gradation of crime. Hanging for a loaf of bread and for attempted escape; punishment with the bunker for diamonds and for collusion with the SS men; the SK was given for a piece of worn blanket used to wrap the feet, or for lighting a cigarette during work.     A separate element of camp life was the transports of Jews from the whole of Europe to the gas. Old people, children, pregnant women, the sick, mothers, and children were gassed; the healthy and the young, on the other hand, went into the camp.     It also happened, however, that whole transports wandered immediately and without selection to the chimney (among them many transports of Hungarian Jews). Completely inexplicable, but nonetheless true, is the history of the transports from Theresienstadt which, after a six-month stay in the camp, were completely annihilated in a single night. It was then that the Kommandant of Birkenau, Schwarz Hubert, sent his lover to the gas chamber, and, yet, it is said, he loved her very much. And although the Germans stressed the difference between the Aryans and the Jews very strongly, one must not assume that a quick "humanitarian" death was an exclusively Jewish privilege. Polish transports also met their end in the gas chambers. I know the fate of a certain transport from the Lublin area, around one and a half thousand people, that arrived and perished on one dark winter night (1942-43).     The Jewish transports brought with them great wealth. Gold, diamonds, clothes, food. Some of these things sneaked into the camp through the well-known system of organization, saving -- what a paradox -- many people from death through starvation. Some of the prisoners grew enormously rich by burying their acquired treasure in the earth.     Above all, however, the SS men were the ones who grew rich. There was not a single one among them who didn't profit from the gassed. They stole directly on the ramp; they stole at the crematorium; they stole from the Effects; they stole stolen goods, too -- from prisoners. They bought with vodka, with newspapers, with leniency, and by turning their eyes away. They sent their families hundreds of thousands of marks and foreign currency, scores of watches, kilos of gold, and dozens of diamonds. Their wives, their mothers, and their children wore, and still wear, the underwear and clothing of people who had been gassed; ate, and still eat, bread bought with money stolen from them, with gold teeth extracted from them.     However, neither theft, nor lovers recruited from among imprisoned women, nor the selling of vodka and news brought the SS man and the prisoner closer to each other. On the "human" level (the administrative one), when it came to organizing, functions, camp intrigue, or women, the relationship could be trusting, even friendly. On more than one occasion, the SS man made possible some camp collusion for a prisoner, carried a letter, or gave news from above. At the same time, however, when it was a matter of the "divine" order (the political one), of a question of politics, of one step taken beyond the line of guards, of gassing a lover -- the SS man would shoot his administrative friend without hesitation and would murder the woman. Murdering, stealing, and peddling, the SS man never stepped beyond the bounds of his mission or neglected his duty. He committed evil and, with an unusual knowledge of human psychology, knew how to blame it on others.     The prisoner who colluded with the SS, on the other hand, had only one desire: freedom and peace. An equally dominant feeling was the desire to avenge the dead and the living.     There are many camp secrets that will never be revealed. Those who died of hunger, the strangled, those killed with a club, will never speak. The millions from the gas chambers will not give their impressions. They will not express their amazement that this -- is the truth. A truth in which they did not believe even up to the last moment on the threshold of the Gaskammer . The descriptions of writers will be regarded as poetic license, as calumny. But even the living don't know everything. You didn't impart news about the camp; to do so threatened death. Everyone had to acquire knowledge about the Lager for himself. Thousands of prisoners don't know the names of the camp's Kommandants or Blockführers . Thousands of them don't know the behind-the-scenes parts of the camp. They know only the nameless official scenario: gas, work, horrendous fatigue, hunger, beatings, rain and snow, disease, and, again, the gas. They know lice, fleas, bugs. They know boils, phlegmon and bloody dysentery.     A smaller number, whether because of the position they occupied, or because of the long time they spent there, know many aspects of the camp. They know names and facts, numbers by heart; they remember the faces of the murdered and of the murderers. For years, they stared at the faces of the SS men. They had to build with their own hands the wooden horse stables in which they lived, surround them with electrified wire, erect crematoria. With their own arms they carried the corpses of their friends. They stood in selections.     There is no exaggeration in what they say.     And there isn't a single German town by which a camp wasn't built. There isn't a single camp in which people were not killed. This earth isn't German earth because in it lie the people murdered by them.     Let time turn back so that those who do not believe might enter through the gates of the camp at Birkenau, see with their own eyes Lager Five, Mauthausen, Neuengamme, Majdanek ...     Let them question the people from the gas chambers and the lime pits. The gassed, the shot, and the dead from hunger.     And then let them try to ask for mercy for the Germans. Copyright © 1946 Janusz Nel Siedlecki, Krystyn Olszewski, Tadeusz Borowski and Anatol Girs.

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