Witnesses

22.01.2016

“People ate snow”. Shalom Lindenbaum’s Account

fot. Joanna Król / Muzeum Historii Żydów Polskich POLIN

“We walked for three days, my father and me. On 18 January (1945), Thursday evening, we left Buna-Monowice, the Auschwitz sub-camp. We walked all night until we reached Mikołów, about 50 kilometres away!

We stopped to rest there by a brickyard until late afternoon, eating the last crumbs of bread we were given before leaving. We were wearing striped uniforms with no vest underneath, but we had a blanket. We used it as a coat to warm ourselves up. The temperature was around 20 degrees below zero.

From there, we were rushed to Gliwice, to an empty camp whose former prisoners had already headed west. At this stage, people started to faint from exhaustion. They were no longer able to keep up. They were shot. Our column was the first one to reach the camp. We took the bunk beds immediately. The following columns had to make do with the floor or the “upper level” of the bunk beds. The advantage of this was that we were warm.

Next day, on Saturday morning, we were escorted to the railway station, but Russian Liberation Army soldiers, sent by Germans to the front by train, were faster. We were rushed back to the camp. Once we were “free” at the camp, someone discovered the kitchen building and found potatoes. Someone else set fire to a barrack and we threw those potatoes to the fire. This was our only meal that day, for which some of us had to pay with their lives as the camp guards’ bullets reached them.

On Sunday, 21 January, we were rushed to another station. This time, we were loaded onto open freight wagons.

There were over a hundred people in each wagon; we kept rubbing against one another which kept us warm, but was also unpleasant. We were not merely prisoners, but also living creatures. We defecated into our hands, and then made our way through the crowd to throw the feces outside the wagon.

Some were unable to refrain. Others got diarrhoea from eating  snow falling on us. Yes, some people ate snow.

After a while, the train stopped. It was dark, we had no idea where we were. It was not until dawn that we could read the name of the station: Egersfeld/Rzędówka.

We stayed there until the afternoon, when we were suddenly ordered to leave the wagons. The more frail prisoners, unable to keep up, were shot by Germans on the spot. We were rushed towards Rybnik. Every couple of metres someone was shot dead. Locals who were collecting the bodies counted 288 dead. We were 1500 on leaving Buna, which means that approximately 25% already got killed. 385 prisoners froze to death the following night in Rybnik. Thus, 50% of the prisoners were already dead.

Rushed towards Rybnik, treading among dead bodies, we reached a forest where a trap prepared by local gendarmerie awaited us. As the shooting begun, the lines completely broke down, and the people scattered all over the place. My father and I had just entered the forest. We were not within the reach of the shooting yet, so we stuck closely to a tree while the remains of the column kept moving further into the forest, towards Rybnik. I suggested we should climb up the tree, spend the night there and wait until the Russian army arrives. My father, however, thought we should get something to eat first.

We approached the nearest house and asked for bread. The man replied in German: “Heraus” ('get out of here!'). We ran away, as he could detain and denounce us. We turned back, in the direction opposite to Rybnik, and kept walking without having the slightest idea where we were and which way we were going, when suddenly someone called us from a distance.

We approached him, as we were too exhausted to run away. He took us to his house which was also risky, as he could have detained us and called the gendarmerie. But he invited us to the table instead, offering bread with sausage and hot tea. It was a miracle! Especially the hot tea. He left the house after a while. We were afraid that this could have been a trap, but he quickly came back with other refugees. He fed them too. 

When it got dark, he offered us to stay in the pigsty overnight, asking us to say that we had sneaked into the pigsty without his knowledge, had we been discovered. In the morning, before dawn, he came to us with sandwiches and a shot of vodka for everyone, and suggested we should go to the nearby village of Wilcza, away from the main road. And so we did.The path was next to a forest which we decided to enter.

We headed east, from where canon fire could be heard. This was a sign that we were approaching the front line, our rescue and freedom. But the forest turned out to be small and with no path at all. We came back to the road, where a man riding a bicycle stopped to warn us that four refugees in striped uniforms had just been shot beside the road. They might have been our comrades from the pigsty. Nonetheless, we followed our benefactor's advice and continued our march towards Wilcza. A few minutes later, a woman on a bike stopped to ask us: 

— Where are you going? Why don't you drop by somewhere? —

— Who would let us in? — I replied.

— I'm going to the mine to bring some food to my husband. Follow me, I'll ask a friend if she can let you in. If she doesn't, I'll walk back and you'll follow me.

She approached the first house in the village, knocked on the window and asked her friend — Will you let them in, Dorota?

The woman agreed. The next moment we were inside, unseen by anyone, as this was the first house in the village from the side of the road from which we arrived.

The woman who took us there, to the house of the Freilich family, was Rozalia Kalabiś RIP, and the one who hosted us was Dorota Kuc (née Freilich).

They saved our lives, for which I will be eternally grateful.”

Author: Shalom Lindenbaum, Ramat Gan, 14.01.2016.

Editor: Joanna Król

***

Together with his father, Shalom Lindenbaum survived a death march from Auschwitz. After the war, he left for Palestine. He fought for Irgun, a Zionist military organisation, against the British administration. He spent one year at an internment camp in Cyprus. He fought in the Israeli Independence War in 1948 and in the 1956 Sinai Campaign. Literary scholar. Author of studies on the prose of Bruno Schulz, poetry of Uri Zvi Greenberg and Polish Romantic poetry (e.g.  essay entitled Wpływ polskiej poezji romantycznej Adama Mickiewicza i Juliusza Słowackiego na poezję hebrajską [Influence of the Polish Romantic Poetry of Adam Mickiewicz and Juliusz Slowacki on Hebrew Poetry]). He translated Odczytanie popiołów [A Reading of Ashes] by Jerzy Ficowski from Polish to Hebrew.

Editor's note:
 

The POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews oral history collection holds an interview with Shalom Lindenbaum conducted by Janina Goldhar and Jadwiga Rytlowa. , as well as a documentary by Joanna Król and Karolina Dzięciołowska entitled The Rescued, based on this interview, among others.

For the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust celebrated on 27 January, Prof. Shalom Lindenbaum decided to write his story of the death march and the women who saved his life anew.

Shalom, thank you so much for this text. Each time I read your words, I struggle to believe that you have been through all that and yet you are able to affirm lifein such a wonderful way.

Joanna Król.

22.01.2016