And at first, when people were fainting, you know, they would be nice and they would give us something. Later on, it was no big deal. So if people fainted, they just fainted, and somebody would give them a little water, and after a while they’d go back to work.
BURDE: You mentioned the soldiers. Were they German soldiers?
KATZ: Yes, SS. There were some human beings – they were not only German soldiers though – they were also the soldiers that came willingly from other countries…from Poland, willingly…they came from Hungary. These were called…they were…they were…Germans probably that lived in those countries and they were very happy to help the Germans out. Austria of course, and, they were SS, they were not human beings.
BURDE: What were they called? Did they have a name?
KATZ: “Volksdeutschen.” They lived in Sudetenland. They lived in Hungary. They lived in Poland, but they were originally Germans. But there were many Hungarians and Ukrainians, and they were very happy to collaborate with the Germans also. Anything that was against the Jews…they were happy to do.
We were very…we were still lucky to be there, you know, in this particular camp, because they still needed us. As long as they needed us to produce, we didn’t starve, really, literally. The Germans were losing the war constantly…all over. And conditions became at the camp, conditions became rough because they were getting very nervous. Some of the SS women, they were not only men, by the way…the SS women were not any better than the SS men, started to disappear, also to go home, because they wanted to go home. They saw that the war was coming to an end and the English were the ones that occupied Leipzig. But before they were able to occupy us, and free us, the Germans took us on a march. They did not want to leave us there. So they took us, our camp, plus neighboring camps, and we’re marching and carrying all the belongings for the SS…like on…on a wagon, pulling it…like horses. And at night they would take turns watching us and going into the town, and they would put us on a field. That was some time in March. And March in Germany, or for that matter, in Europe, it’s just unbearable…how cold it is. Rain…rain…and I know a lot of us just couldn’t walk, so they were just shot! They didn’t care. If you…and then…overhead there were many raids, air raids, so what they did, they use to make us walk at night because in case to be…you know, they didn’t want anyone to see us. So they made us walk at night and we were so weak that we, two or three of us, would form like a, that one would sleep and the two would walk. And you’re…it’s unbelievable but people really are able to sleep while they walk. That’s how tired we were, without any food.
At one point, one neighbor, a farmer, brought out some food…some potatoes and but our…the leader of our group couldn’t divide it. There wasn’t enough. And the people started going at it, so there was like a creek – so he just threw the whole potatoes into the creek. Some of the women were going down in the mud…into the creek…getting killed, to pick out some of the potatoes. It was just an unbelievable sight.
And in between time, three of us decided that we are going to run away. We’re not going to continue and get killed. And some of the soldiers were weary also. It was raining constantly. Even though they took turns and they slept, they still didn’t like it because they knew that the war was probably coming to an end. So three of us thought we saw that there was already a hothouse close by. It was March, and there were, you know, bunkers there…grey. I don’t know what you would call…that the army had like dug in, you know. So we somehow were able to disappear in there until the transport left. And we waited there all night. Then we came to a town and being there were many Hungarians that helped the Germans, and those were called “Volksdeutschen,” “Schwaben,” we decided that we were going to say we just lost our transport and we were going to try and wait out the liberation from the Russians or from the English, somehow, somewhere on a farm to work, or something. So as we were in the corner – it was dusk – a woman came by and she said, “What are you doing here?” We looked very pitiful, and we said that we were working for the Germans and we lost our transport, and we would like to be put up anyplace. First we tried…we went into a place that looked like a…where they had…a farm…where they had all kinds of…a, a, farmhouse like. And we opened up the door and we found many SS. So we got scared and we ran away. We thought we could, anyplace, we could dry off. So she said that she was going to…this woman…when she saw us, she was going to call the mayor of the town to tell him. After all, we worked for Germany and that they should put us up somewhere, you know. But in the meantime, we saw a little place, I told you it was a hothouse, and there was a little something, so we ran away – we said we’re going to take care of ourselves. And we were over there…overnight, where we found food and we found shelter and we dried off. We couldn’t stay there either because in the morning some workers came and they said, “I don’t care who you are, I don’t care what you are, but you’ve gotta get out of here…this is ours.” So at least we were able, at that time, to wash up and we were able to get some food together to continue. This place that we were at – we didn’t even know where we were at the time, was a army camp. It was not an SS camp – it was a Wehrmacht. And the place escapes me (QUIETLY) sometimes I think one just tries to completely erase…I don’t remember it.
BURDE: Do you know which direction the march was going?
KATZ: It was completely demolished…the whole town in Germany. We were going toward Theresienstadt. Some people made it, I understood…later. I found out that you didn’t make it always to Theresienstadt because if they weren’t killed or didn’t die of starvation or whatever, they did make it. But anyway we were left, and the neighboring Germans put us up at a little…at this, at this army camp to help clean because they said they were going to find our transport, but of course, we were lying all along, you know. There was one German officer who came the following day and he said…he invited us for lunch to his place. He told us, he says… “Look, I don’t want you to say that you’re Hungarians. You’re Germans. You work for Germany.” He was an old gentleman who left his daughter in Heidelberg. He knew we were Jewish. He brought us food. He told us, “Stay there, I will protect you.” I don’t know his name, because things followed afterwards…we still had to go on…because they would not leave us there. “They,” I mean the soldiers. The things that were going on…they were running away from the Russians. We were hoisted on…on cars with Hitler Jugend…with anything. And, but we did…we were maids, the cooks, you know, for them now. Until we arrived in, (VERY LONG PAUSE) (WHISPERS TO BURDE) Name me a couple of cities in Germany that got really demolished. It’s unbelievable…
BURDE: We’ll go on. Maybe it will come to you.
KATZ: Yes, I guess we’ll have to come back to it. There we were…liberated. (LOUD BELL RINGS)
BURDE: That’s all right…that is…
KATZ: Anyway, when we saw, as we were going on these, uh, tractors and whatever, the Germans realized that the war was ending. They were trying to protect themselves the, and they didn’t care about anything else. They were burning all the different magazines, with the merchandise, with all their belongings, and weapons, and everything. And the three of us were among them…as Jews.
But at that point, life already – I don’t think I really realized what was going on. I think we were just numb. To be…really to think, that we were going to survive that. With this particular…with this particular group, we went up into a hill where the Germans took off all their clothing, and from a neighboring population they tried to get some other civilian clothing, because the Russians – the following morning – we came down…and the Russians were there. The soldiers were there. They were marching. They had their harmonicas and one of the…one of the Germans that we were there, and these were soldiers, and these were women…they were not SS anymore. They were already at the end…they were afraid too, at this point. We went to one of the homes in Dresden. (How could I have forgotten?) It was in Dresden. And there was right away established a order somehow…where we met other people from other…other nationalities and such. And from there on we found the first train, of course, to go home. This is…to go home…(LONG PAUSE, CRYING)
BURDE: Did you have to be hospitalized, or were you able to…?
KATZ: No. I was not hospitalized. (CRYING) I probably didn’t weigh more than 80 pounds. I think there are pictures, a photo somewhere. But I was lucky that I wasn’t sick. Now the people that became ill during this, of course, they never made it. If they had like from lack of nutrition. I do have one thing…I was able to hide under the clothing somehow, like sores is what I had…on my legs. But I didn’t have anything on my…on my face and on my arms…that it was invisible, especially at the time when they were looking at it. But like I said, a cousin of mine, who was my age, became ill with a kidney disease all of a sudden. Probably had a cold, there were no antibiotics, there were nothing – that was in Auschwitz. There was no warm water. She was in pain, so what we did, we gave her something like coffee in the morning. We poured it together, her two sisters and myself, so she could sit in it to give her some warmth. This was how far one could go with medication. (SPEAKS QUIETLY) Of course, it didn’t last for a week and she died. There wasn’t even a candle. (CRYING) We just threw her out. Every morning one could see just bodies in front of the barracks. At one point, we had to stand appel for hours, being counted. So somebody would faint, but if the soldiers would see it, they would just hoist them out. There was no water. You couldn’t move. You had to stand there. (CRYING) And in order to revive them, someone would urinate. This happened, really, to us…do you believe it? It’s hard for me to believe it. (LONG PAUSE) (CRYING)
The things that happened at Auschwitz aren’t human. For instance, I was working in the kitchen for a while. So they found that somebody was giving some food to some of the people – so they punished us. There was gravel in front of the kitchen. They made us go on the gravel…on our knees…until everything was just bloody. And this is how they enjoyed…to see us go like animals on the gravel, on our knees…just to…Of course, a few people were lucky, they didn’t get an infection, like myself – I survived. And those that didn’t never made it. These are some of the faults…I don’t know where they learned those, but, they had all the “know how” – how to…how to punish…that’s not enough…
BURDE: Were there any non-Jews in Auschwitz with you?
KATZ: There was a camp of non-Jews. But those people were not treated like the Jews. They use to…they were workers, and they were probably political prisoners. But they were able to come and go. In the camps in Auschwitz that I was in, there were only Jewish women. There were also other camps and a factory where I worked where there were non-Jews also. They lived under different circumstances. They were not treated as we were treated. We had only a number…and we had no name. We didn’t count.
BURDE: Did any Jews from your town go back to live there?
KATZ: Yes. There were a few people that were old, they settled again. But I would say that the bulk, or 99 percent of us left, we came home, we waited to see who was left. Then the part that was occupied by the Russians after the war, and in order for us to run…get out of there…we had to run again. We did not want to live under a dictatorship – so again we had to escape. We came to Germany, and in Germany we lived as displaced people. We were trying to go to Israel, but there too my brother left. As a young, very young…right away after the war, he went and he was unable to go directly. Already, he was in Cyprus. It was under British mandate. And my uncle survived the war in London. He lived in Belgium before that, so my older brother went to Belgium and I came to the United States. (LONG PAUSE)
Once in a while, I don’t know how often, they would take us to a bathhouse where there would be some showers and they would give us some fluorine or some salt, and we were able to get washed. After that, the soldiers would humiliate us. They would spray us, like you do for bugs, you know…bend down. It’s the most humiliating way for human beings. And they would laugh! When they picked us to go to a camp…to a work camp, or any place for that matter, we would have to parade in front of them…young women…naked of course, with our hands up. And I mean, just the most humiliating things for us to do in front of them. (TALKS WITH EMOTION AND FEELING) Not that they cared about us – just to humiliate us. Like we were not people. And…and so many different instances, people just became…completely…well, I…I think they became, sick. They couldn’t take it. I wanted to, really, it almost made it hard to be able to survive. Just…not even the physical part.
In my camp, in my block where I stayed in Auschwitz, there was one woman who was pregnant…from my hometown…she was a young woman. The blockalteste – that was called the woman that was in charge – was able somehow to abort the child. She was in her seventh or eighth month, and hoped that she would survive, otherwise, she would automatically be killed. She died anyway because of infection. There were no medication. But these were people that you knew! (SPEAKS WITH FEELING) You lived with! Can you imagine the circumstances, with no medication…no nothing? To abort and then, at that point, you took the life in your hands. These were the things that were happening in Auschwitz.
Some of the people that you were asking me about…if people other than Jews worked there…yes. There were people that worked there, they were able to come and go. They were very happy to tell us that, “See those fires – those are all Jewish people that are burning. Those are your brothers and sisters.” They were Ukrainians, they were Pollacks.
BURDE: Then at the time when you were in Auschwitz, everybody there knew how people were killed?
KATZ: We didn’t believe it…sure, we knew. At that time there was really nothing – and you could see the people. They were picked over, they were left from other camps or they were just too weak, too sick, and the people there were picked out daily – they couldn’t make it. We knew that they were being killed. A lot of people went berserk right on the spot…some of the things…it was just unbelievable.
It’s very hard, at one session, to really get your mind back. Because I think…I think that possibly a person is subconsciously fighting what really happened. Because just entering in the camp…places…I don’t remember how, I don’t even remember what happened…just I remember things what was there.
BURDE: Well if you at any time want to continue the interview, we can always do it…if you think of things you feel that you want to put on tape.
KATZ: I’m sure there are plenty people that have plenty of other things to add to that. I just think it’s too horrible to even continue to discuss…the daily things that happened. It’s unbelievable…unbelievable…yet somehow we survived…some of us.
BURDE: You have a brother who lives in London now?
KATZ: Yes, that’s right. And I have a niece who lives here. I recall every Jew was by the radio. People that did not have any radios came to other people’s stores…in the windows. It was in the fall…the Jewish people were ready to go along to try to protect Czechoslovakia. There were soldiers going on top of the roofs because there was a mobilization – they hoped everyone would help Czechoslovakia stop the Germans.
BURDE: Then the Jews were with the Czechs?
KATZ: Yes, yes. Because we had democracy in Czechoslovakia. We were pretty secure…just like the people of this country. The President was a highly democratic person and we lived in a society where one wouldn’t believe that things of this nature could happen. After all, this is the 20th century. I mean, one wouldn’t even dream of creating a book so bizarre as this! Not actually, just think about it. So this is what I mean. We were considered human beings by the Czechs. So how could…how could anybody do something like that?
BURDE: You said your parents were Orthodox. Was all of your family, were all the Jews in your town observant Jews?
KATZ: Yes, yes. I wouldn’t say “all.” There were some that had some intermarriages and such, but the bulk was…
BURDE: They observed Shabbat?
BURDE: And they were kosher?
KATZ: Uh mmm. Yes…In those years, I imagine, most of Eastern Europe, even though Czechoslovakia wasn’t Poland, but it also a part, where I come from that a majority of the Jewish people were Orthodox. Further in Bohemia and Moravia, some of them…most of them really did not observe Judaism as the people in Slovakia and also, of course, Poland and Rumania and the Eastern European countries…they were all highly observant Jews.
BURDE: And to the Germans, it didn’t matter?
KATZ: No, no. it did not matter. In fact, there were many Hungarian Jews that were, they were Jewish by birth, but they did not practice Judaism and instead of wearing the yellow band on them, they gave them white armbands…because they were just sort of half-Jews. They were converts (the Hungarians did that). But the Germans…they didn’t care. To them they were all Jews! And they treated us as Jews. If you’re a Jew – one wasn’t a human being anymore.