David P. Boder Interviews Alexander Gertner; August 26, 1946; Genève, Switzerland

  • David Boder: Wait a moment. Stay there. [Music.] [In English:] Geneva, Switzerland. August the 26th, 1946, at a community house of displaced people, a religious, Jewish group, and the interviewee is Mr. Alexander Gertner.
  • David Boder: [In German:] How old are you?
  • Alexander Gertner: I'll soon be twenty.
  • David Boder: Twenty.
  • Alexander Gertner: I'll be soon.
  • David Boder: [In English:] He is twenty years [old]. He will be twenty next November.
  • David Boder: [In German:] And so, Mr. Gertner, tell us again your name, Alexander Gertner.
  • Alexander Gertner: Alexander Gertner.
  • David Boder: And how old are you?
  • Alexander Gertner: Born on the 16th of November, '26...1926.
  • David Boder: Yes. And where were you born, Mr. Gertner?
  • Alexander Gertner: In Roumania. [Name not clear] is the name of the place...
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Alexander Gertner: ...province [of] Maramures [?] in Roumania.
  • David Boder: Roumania?
  • Alexander Gertner: Yes.
  • David Boder: Write down for me the name of the place.
  • Alexander Gertner: The place...
  • David Boder: And so, Mr. Gertner, you speak Yiddish. Do you want to speak Yiddish or German?
  • Alexander Gertner: Yiddish, yes, Yiddish.
  • David Boder: Yiddish. [In Yiddish:] And so, I want you to tell me everything.
  • Alexander Gertner: Yes.
  • David Boder: Where you have been when the war started and what happened to you. Make yourself comfortable and start telling.
  • Alexander Gertner: From the beginning.
  • David Boder: Don't omit details.
  • Alexander Gertner: Yes?
  • David Boder: We want to know everything that happened.
  • Alexander Gertner: And so from the beginning. And so in recent times when I...in 1944...1944...[correction] in 1943 I came to Grosswardein [Roumanian name: Oradea], that was a town in Roumania...
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Alexander Gertner: There I started learning carpentry. And I was learning there for a few months, and then it came about that I couldn't learn any more, because there was no stuff...
  • David Boder: What does it mean, 'no stuff'?
  • Alexander Gertner: No...no material.
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Alexander Gertner: No material. And so I was compelled...I started learning another trade, glove knitting.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: You understand? And that also lasted a few months, and then stopped coming the supplies, the material from Budapest.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: So I remained in Grosswardein till 1944, till before Pesach [Jewish Easter]. In 1944 before Pesach I wanted to journey to my parents home in [not clear]...
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Alexander Gertner: ...for Pesach. I believed that I would go home eight days before Pesach. Why do I have to go home two weeks before Pesach. Shall I speak louder?
  • David Boder: No...
  • Alexander Gertner: Yes.
  • David Boder: I will tell you. As soon as you see that this [the neon light indicator] lights up now and then, that means it is loud enough. Let's go on.
  • Alexander Gertner: Yes.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: Yes.
  • David Boder: Go on [?].
  • Alexander Gertner: And so I figured on going home only eight days before Pesach, to go home. So eight days, ten days before Pesach the trains were barred for Jews. So Jews were not allowed to travel by trains.
  • David Boder: [Clarifying:] On the railroads.
  • Alexander Gertner: On the railroads.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: And so I forgot [to tell you]. On the 5th of March the Germans came [into our town]. On the 5th of March, 1944, the Germans entered.
  • David Boder: '44.
  • Alexander Gertner: Yes, '44, and we began right away wearing yellow stars.
  • David Boder: Yellow patches.
  • Alexander Gertner: Yellow patches.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: And...and so before Pesach I wanted to go home. One couldn't. And after Pesach...and so I had to remain in Grosswardein. Right after Pesach, two weeks after Pesach, they began to assemble the Ghetto. And the Ghetto lasted [words not clear].
  • David Boder: So you did not go home?
  • Alexander Gertner: No. I remained in there. The parents wanted me home, and the mother and the father, because they weren't in the same place, and I wanted to go home, and I couldn't any more.
  • David Boder: Why...why weren't your father and mother in the same place?
  • Alexander Gertner: Because they lived in that place where I was born, understand?
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: And I went to [name not clear] to live there.
  • David Boder: Nu, but your father and mother lived together?
  • Alexander Gertner: Yes.
  • David Boder: Oh, yes. Do you have any brothers and sisters?
  • Alexander Gertner: No. I had one sister, younger than I.
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: And so...
  • David Boder: Why do you say you 'had'?
  • Alexander Gertner: I don't know whether she is alive.
  • David Boder: [Words not clear.]
  • Alexander Gertner: I am ninety per cent certain, alas, that she isn't.
  • David Boder: And about your parents?
  • Alexander Gertner: Also. Even more [certain].
  • David Boder: Hm. Nu, and so you couldn't go back.
  • Alexander Gertner: No. And so I remained in Grosswardein in the Ghetto. It was...the Ghetto was assembled two weeks after Pesach. It took four days till the Ghetto was built. It was shut. Nobody could go out, out of the house, and...
  • David Boder: There in the little town?
  • Alexander Gertner: No, Grosswardein was a bigger town of about a hundred and twenty thousand inhabitants.
  • David Boder: Write down for me the name of the town.
  • Alexander Gertner: Grosswardein.
  • David Boder: Yes. Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: And the Ghetto began to be built. I have...I remained in a house there where I lived...well, in my room.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: And I...I didn't have anything to eat, because I was not prepared [did not stock up]. I wanted in the morning to go to work like always at five o'clock. I got up to go for prayer and from there straight to work. So I got up. I see police already standing in the...every ten meters on the street, and the policeman tells me, 'Shut the door again, and go back into the house.' And so four days I was shut in the house. I couldn't go out. We nearly died of hunger. And so then we were permitted to go out. Later already was...
  • David Boder: And so four days you were in the house.
  • Alexander Gertner: Yes.
  • David Boder: With whom were you in there?
  • Alexander Gertner: I was alone, because I lived privately [by myself]...
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: ...in a room. Well, there were Jews there in the house, but every body thought about himself, but yet one did help out another.
  • David Boder: You got something to eat?
  • Alexander Gertner: Nothing special, but one could get something.
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: Very little, you can imagine. And then after the four days was Saturday. I wanted to go out to....I had relatives there in Grosswardein. I wanted to go out to my relatives. So I was instantly caught to work. I didn't even have time...
  • David Boder: The Germans caught you to work?
  • Alexander Gertner: The Germans caught [people] on the street to work. I was brought to a...to a...to a food factory. There we had to unload wagons with potatoes and German clothing in to a storehouse. I unloaded the same, and it lasted till the evening. We didn't eat anything since the morning, and in the evening a pot of potatoes was cooked for us, and we were given it. That was the...till the evening. In the evening there arrived the SS superior group leader [an officer]. He saw that the work wasn't finished yet. He began to throw around the potatoes and [he] wanted to devour everybody. And so...so the Ghetto...
  • David Boder: And so from this work, where did you go?
  • Alexander Gertner: Went back to the relatives. I didn't go back to the old place where I lived, on that street. I went back to my relatives, and I have...
  • David Boder: Your relatives lived in the Ghetto?
  • Alexander Gertner: Oh, yes, they lived in the Ghetto.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: And so I went there to eat something [?]. From the Ghetto...
  • David Boder: Excuse me. Tell me, how is a Ghetto made? How did they make the Ghetto?
  • Alexander Gertner: How they made the Ghetto? First they made a plan. There were in the town thirty thousand Jews. They made a plan. All Jews should...for instance, in...in the Jewish region they intended to blockade all the streets. They blockaded, and they told the Gentiles to move out of these streets, and the streets were barricaded with boards two meters high, and all the Jews from the whole town were sent into...into these few streets. And even from the surrounding towns the Jews were brought...who lived in the surrounding towns were brought in.
  • David Boder: And who decided where one was going to live?
  • Alexander Gertner: The Germans. Everything [by] the Germans.
  • David Boder: The Germans.
  • Alexander Gertner: Yes.
  • David Boder: Did they say, 'You go in here, and you go in there?'
  • Alexander Gertner: No. They said here the Jews have to live, on this piece of ground.
  • David Boder: All right, but...
  • Alexander Gertner: All the Jews were sent in. The Germans brought [them] with trucks. The whole town was sent in by trucks, thrown into the Ghetto, on this piece of ground.
  • David Boder: On the few streets.
  • Alexander Gertner: Yes. Now then...yes. And everyone...among us there were already appointed Jewish police and all kinds of different...Hungarian police. [Word not clear] it is called in Hungarian.
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Alexander Gertner: And then they pushed in....In one house has to be...in one room had to be nine people, in one room of twelve meters. No, well, in one room of...in a bigger room nine people had to live.
  • David Boder: Let's take a room like this.
  • Alexander Gertner: In a room like this approximately twenty people had to live.
  • David Boder: How big do you think this room is? How many meters square are here?
  • Alexander Gertner: In this room? Approximately eight by eight, eight by nine.
  • David Boder: Eight by nine. And so in a room eight by nine approximately how many had to live?
  • Alexander Gertner: Twenty to twenty-five people had to live.
  • David Boder: People...
  • Alexander Gertner: Yes.
  • David Boder: How, men and women...
  • Alexander Gertner: Men and wives together with children, everything. They were thrown together with the things, with all the belongings that they possessed.
  • David Boder: The policemen did that?
  • Alexander Gertner: The policemen, yes. And then one did...the...the Ghetto...When they began to move them in trucks, they were thrown on the streets. And then, when all those people were already in the Ghetto, he began to distribute everybody. In this house live so many. In this house....One was missing a child. One was missing a sack with things. One was missing that. One was missing that. It was a calamity! And everybody was on guard, because the grabbed for work on various things, in various places. And we...then when we had been already distributed, we already were pushed together. I lived with my relatives. There I lived. Then everybody was allotted....The food in the Ghetto consisted of a fifth...it was twenty-five dekas of bread. That is...how much is that in grams? Twenty-five dekagrams of bread and a liter of soup.
  • David Boder: Two hundred and fifty grams.
  • Alexander Gertner: Two hundred and fifty grams and...heavy bread. It was heavy bread [of inferior flour badly baked], and there was a liter of soup at dinner time -- sometimes even a little more, and in the morning black coffee, but no sugar.
  • David Boder: Now wait a moment. Wait a moment. You say 'a liter of soup.' Did everybody go from home to the...
  • Alexander Gertner: No. One [person] went from a house. For instance, from a family that had five people it was said...it was recorded that every family has so many, and he was given for so many.
  • David Boder: So many liters of soup.
  • Alexander Gertner: Yes.
  • David Boder: Where was it cooked?
  • Alexander Gertner: There was a field kitchen. At first there was one big field kitchen. Then it was seen that it was not enough. There were four, five kitchens established.
  • David Boder: You have a tattoo number...
  • Alexander Gertner: Yes.
  • David Boder: What is the number?
  • Alexander Gertner: Twelve thousand two hundred sixty-nine [12,269].
  • David Boder: And the letter 'A.' 'A,' what is it for?
  • Alexander Gertner: 'A'? It began...it was like this. At first it was made till two hundred [two hundred thousand?], and then they completed two hundred. So they began again from one, and the made an 'A' [possibly a triangle].
  • David Boder: Hm. All right.
  • Alexander Gertner: You understand?
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: And then...I want to continue...So dinner was distributed in the Ghetto. A little soup was given. It was only watter. And we who had [something] added a little cooking at home, and whoever didn't...So the Ghetto lasted four...
  • David Boder: [Whisper about the tattoo.]
  • Alexander Gertner: The number six is already worn off. It was like this...
  • David Boder: Why is it worn off?
  • Alexander Gertner: It came about by itself.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: It wasn't written well at the beginning...
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: ...because it was done quickly.
  • David Boder: Yes. Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: [Words not clear.]
  • David Boder: Sixty-nine or sixty-five?
  • Alexander Gertner: Sixty-nine.
  • David Boder: Hm, nu? And so?
  • Alexander Gertner: And so we...and everybody was given the little food. The Ghetto became thus. During the time of the Ghetto everybody had to work. They caught young boys and also girls. We had to work hard. For instance, in a bakery that was there, we had to carry eighty-five-kilo sacks to the second floor [in Europe the third.] Boys came home with lung infections, with shooting pains, with different [word not clear].
  • David Boder: [Word not clear.] What?
  • Alexander Gertner: With diseases boys came home, from carrying the heavy sacks to the second floor.
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: You understand?
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: And then the Ghetto played [existed] like this for four weeks. One was grabbed, one was beaten at work, and we didn't know what was happening. And then in the Ghetto was installed in the large Beth Hamidrosh [an annex of the synagogue; term also used synonimously with synagogue]....There was a [word not clear] Beth Hamidrosh in Grosswardein in the synagogue. It was vacated. All the things that were in there were thrown out, and it was made into a Ghetto...a Jewish...a Ghetto hospital.
  • David Boder: [In German:] A Ghetto hospital?
  • Alexander Gertner: A Ghetto hospital.
  • David Boder: [In Yiddish:] Who did that?
  • Alexander Gertner: That was made...that was ordered by the Germans. It was made by the Jews themselves...it was made.
  • David Boder: Why?
  • Alexander Gertner: They had to. It was ordered.
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: There were so many sick that we didn't know where to put the sick.
  • David Boder: Were you allowed to carry out the Sefer Torahs [the Holy Scrolls]?
  • Alexander Gertner: Yes. We had to, not that we were just allowed.
  • David Boder: But yes, but they weren't thrown out.
  • Alexander Gertner: No, they were carried out. We received the order. And then we have...they threw into the hospital....The synagogue annex was very big. People were carried in there who had wasted away [?]. Nobody paid attention to a person. Surely there were Jewish doctors. They were, of course, their people. One didn't know what to do. They [the Germans] didn't give any medicaments. They didn't give any supplies with which to treat. One held out. One, two, on the third day he was already dead. My...my uncle also lay there with pneumonia, usually a light illness. Then he developed pleurisy. He did not receive any care. Then he caught pleurisy, and so with the pleurisy he came to Auschwitz. And, of course, you know what happened there. And like this it was. And so the Ghetto lived thus for four weeks. And then began the deportations. It was on the second day, well, a day after Shevuoth [the Feast of the Tabernacles] in '44. It started on the 1st of June....No, on the 1st of June I went...it means approximately on the 6th, on the 25th of May.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: They began to send transports. The first transport took place on the Saturday after the Feast of the Tabernacles.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: Then, after the first transport was sent away...
  • David Boder: Now wait a moment. How was the first transport selected? How was the transport assembled?
  • Alexander Gertner: It was done like this. One street was taken in the morning, a certain street. It was arranged that every street had a number, a district number.
  • David Boder: Hm. Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: The first street was taken, for instance, Kopetino [?] Street, and Khotin [?] Street, which were there.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: These [streets] were taken. There were three thousand people. They were loaded into wagons [RR-cars], and they were taken away.
  • David Boder: Men, women, and children?
  • Alexander Gertner: Men, women, children, everything.
  • David Boder: Those who could work, also?
  • Alexander Gertner: Did not matter. Everything, everything. From young to old.
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: Sick people, too.
  • David Boder: And where were they transported to?
  • Alexander Gertner: They...we were told that we are taken ito deep Hungary to a lager.
  • David Boder: You were on that transport?
  • Alexander Gertner: We were told so [?].
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: And then we were....Where they were taken to, one knows -- to Auschwitz. To Auschwitz we were taken. I, too, went there.
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: And then we came...and so it was. The first transport was taken away. I was caught to work. It was on the first day of Saturday [obviously Shevouth]. In the houses from which the Jews were taken away the SS have...the Hungarian gendarmes...the gendarmerie...
  • David Boder: You said you were born in Roumania?
  • Alexander Gertner: Yes, but in the year '40 we were handed over by the Germans [?]--I forgot to tell you -- to Hungary. You surely heard about it.
  • David Boder: Yes, well...
  • Alexander Gertner: The district of [?] Transylvania...
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: ...was occupied by Hungary in the year '40, in September.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: You surely heard about it.
  • David Boder: Yes, yes, yes. Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: And I was born as a Roumanian and went to a Roumanian school.
  • David Boder: And then you became a Hungarian.
  • Alexander Gertner: Became....The Hungarians handed us over to Auschwitz, because the Roumanians did not hand any Jews over to Auschwitz.
  • David Boder: Oh! The Roumanians did not hand over the Jews?
  • Alexander Gertner: No. The Roumanians did not. They gave them trouble [harrasments] in the country. Jews were killed off there and slaughtered and sent to Dniestr, but directly to Auschwitz in transports...
  • David Boder: Where did you say they were sent to?
  • Alexander Gertner: To Dniestr. There to the Ukraine.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: To Dniestr.
  • David Boder: To Dniestr.
  • Alexander Gertner: Yes.
  • David Boder: But you were not handed over to Auschwitz.
  • Alexander Gertner: No direct transports like in Hungary, where they took from young to old on a transport.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: The people were not taken in Roumania.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: Only in Hungary.
  • David Boder: And so you were taken to work after the first transport.
  • Alexander Gertner: No. I was taken directly to these houses to remove the furnishings. I saw that there are in these houses Prayer Shawls, Phylacteries. Everything was strewn about. I pictured to myself how it must be [now] in our house, too. And so the transports went in this manner. There were six transports: Saturday the first, then Sunday, Monday, Tuesday...on Tuesday there did not depart a transport, so we already thought that...that...
  • David Boder: That it will be enough.
  • Alexander Gertner: That it will be enough. In the meantime there were no wagons [available]. Next day they took again. Wednesday I came into transp-...my turn [came], that is, I and my housemates [?]. And so we were taken on a transport and quickly....We didn't know anything on the evening [before] that tomorrow we are going on a transport, because we knew that another district was going. In the morning comes in the...the gendarmerie, the Hungarian, and yell, 'Quick, in half an hour everybody has to be with his bundles in the street.' And my...my aunt begins to cry. The uncle lies in the hospital sick, helpless. And she has to go away, and the hospital still remains. And so, well, he didn't...she was not permitted to take leave of him. And so we came. We stood in the street, five in a row, and then suddenly they counted up, counted up. Right before us it stopped. Thus there were already enough. Three thousand could only be taken at one time. And we remained behind, two hundred and fifty people. We remained behind, because it was...we could not be taken any more on this transport.
  • David Boder: And your aunt also remained behind?
  • Alexander Gertner: Yes. My aunt and my uncle, and another friend, too. And then we were taken into the synagogue annex. There was a big synagogue annex.
  • David Boder: [Words not clear.]
  • Alexander Gertner: Yes.
  • David Boder: So three thousand were taken.
  • Alexander Gertner: Three thousand. They took more, because they did not know how many were in the district [?]. So they counted off the three thousand, and two hundred and fifty remained. There were too many.
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: We were brought back. We were brought into that house. We were locked in the big synagogue. There was a big, [word not clear] synagogue. We were locked in. We were not permitted to go out [words not clear].
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: And there we were brought something to eat from the kitchen. They admitted it [the food], barely admitted it. We had to stay there overnight. You can imagine! Two hundred and fifty people had to stay there overnight on the benches, and...
  • David Boder: Women and children?
  • Alexander Gertner: Women and children and old and sick. It was a...a...and then in the morning exactly at five arrived a transport of gendarmerie, the Hungarians, who took us to fall in also in fives, and we were again...we were taken to the wagons.
  • David Boder: Well, you said that you...
  • Alexander Gertner: Already the next day...the next day...already on Thursday.
  • David Boder: Oh! So you were spared it only for one day.
  • Alexander Gertner: What?
  • David Boder: For one...your deportation was put off for one day. For one day.
  • Alexander Gertner: No. We have...we went away Wednesday.
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Alexander Gertner: In the meantime there were too many, so we were sent away Thursday.
  • David Boder: Nu, nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: You understand?
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: And then in turn [?] on Thursday morning we were taken again and led to the trains. We were taken. There already stood...
  • David Boder: [In German:] To the rainroad.
  • Alexander Gertner: The railroad.
  • David Boder: Were there other people?
  • Alexander Gertner: Other...well, crowds of people behind us.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: We were the first, becasue we were the rest from yesterday.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: You understand? We were taken right away to the wagons. There we already saw whole [many] wagons were standing, maybe dozens [?] of wagons. And the SS distrubute [the people into] the wagons. There was a superior group leader with a few SS officers. They counted up the [people for the] wagons, and they did....I went into the first wagon. We were counted off eighty people, and...and we went into the wagon.
  • David Boder: What kind of wagons were they?
  • Alexander Gertner: They were freight wagons...
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: ...used for transportation of cattle.
  • David Boder: A freight wagon.
  • Alexander Gertner: Freight wagon, freight wagons.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: They were small wagons. We entered eighty, eighty-five people into one wagon, and we were locked in. They said, 'Who is missing...if one will be missing, then the whole wagon will be shot.' So said the Hungarian gendarmerie. They said that.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: And then someone was made the leader of the wagon. He should supervise.
  • David Boder: A Jew?
  • Alexander Gertner: Also a Jew. There were only Jews there.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: And we were locked in there. On Thursday at twelve o'clock...
  • David Boder: You were there with whom?
  • Alexander Gertner: I was...by accident I was able to be with my...with my relatives, [word not clear] only with the aunt, because the uncle remained in the hospital. She alone--the others were thrown into another wagon. One couldn't choose.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: We remained there with strangers, such from the same city, acquantainces. And eighty people in a wagon, a small wagon. For the whole wagon was...was...was allotted a jar of water, and a half a bread to each.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: A small piece [?] of black bread. This was for the whole journey, and we had nothing prepared [?].
  • David Boder: Were you told where you were being taken?
  • Alexander Gertner: We were told nothing. Absolutely nothing was said. The train started moving Thursday noon at twelve o'clock, and we went...
  • David Boder: Nu, a convenience...
  • Alexander Gertner: There was nothing.
  • David Boder: ...a toilet.
  • Alexander Gertner: There were in the wagons absolutely no toilets. Absolutely nothing. It was...we went out [releaved ourselves] ...one...it was...impossible to tell.
  • David Boder: Tell it...how was it?
  • Alexander Gertner: We went out. We had containers or such. We poured it out through the window. One saw another...we couldn't...we took a dress, covered there a corner of the wagon and there. When one came out another went in. So in a line...
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: We didn't have any water to wash one's self and such.
  • David Boder: Hm. One made it on the [in English:] floor...[in German:] on the floor?
  • Alexander Gertner: Right on the floor. The children screamed. They had no water, and the...on the first day there was still water that had been given, and we could [get] a little on the way. And then on the second day there was absolutely no water. The children--it was a pity--the children cried. The parents did not drink any water so that it should remain for the children.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: So we journeyed for four days and four nights till...till Sunday evening.
  • David Boder: Yes. Where did you come to?
  • Alexander Gertner: Sunday evening we came to...to Birkenau, to Auschwitz. This is near Auschwitz.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: And so in the wagons was...we thought we shall perish from thirst. There were terrible heat spells then, and...
  • David Boder: Just a moment. [Words not clear.]
  • Alexander Gertner: Yes. It was terribly hot, and the wagons were closed...
  • David Boder: When was it? In June or May?
  • Alexander Gertner: June. The first of June.
  • David Boder: The first of June. Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: We couldn't stand it. We said, 'If we go another night, then...' We were all undressed, naked, only in the trousers, because of the heat. We arrived on the first of June. We arrived at...
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: On the first of June we arrived in Auschwitz.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: Birkenau it is called. Auschwitz one could...but Birkenau was the extermination camp. And there we detrained. And so says...says my aunt, 'Do they take away the things?' All the things which we had brought. So one there says, ...There were other Jews, Polish, who had unloaded us, who had been in the lager a long time, who cleaned out the RR-cars. They said, 'The soul is taken away, too, not only the things!'
  • David Boder: Nu.
  • Alexander Gertner: We went down...we were immediately, right away, told to fall in fives, men separately and women separately. We couldn't...I didn't even have time to bid good bye to the relatives, to the friends. We were told to hurry. The SS were standing. We were lined up by the SS [?]. We were ordered to fall in. First the women fell in and then the men. We fell in. There was standing an SS chief doctor and was showing with his finger: left and right, left and right.
  • David Boder: Why did he point? What did it mean?
  • Alexander Gertner: Those...those whose face he saw looked young and was healthy for work, that he can work...some he asked, 'How old are you?' One...seldom he asked the age...if he was in doubt. And left [he pointed] when he was old [?]. Right away he said, 'Left, right, left, right.'
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: And those...those on the left, about those, we know where they went. They went into the gas chamber right away. And we, the others, went to bathe. We were taken away to...we were sorted out. From such a transport there could have been sorted out approximately two hundred to two hundred and fifty men.
  • David Boder: One couldn't see the crematories in Birkenau? In Birkenau...
  • Alexander Gertner: Yes. In Birkenau were the crematories. There we saw them. It was so...
  • David Boder: Where were you? In Auschwitz or Birkenau?
  • Alexander Gertner: In Birkenau. In Auschwitz there were no crematories.
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Alexander Gertner: And so, it was so. When we came there were arriving many transports, because they hurried...
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: There arrived in a day fifteen thousand to twenty thousand people.
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Alexander Gertner: They arrived...they did not have time to burn them in the crematories, because in a crematory went thirty-six people [at one time]. There were thirty-six...[correction] six crematories. In a crematory were six ovens.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: In every oven one man. So in a few minutes thirty-six people could burn. That means that in six crematories could [be burned] a few hundred people in a few minutes. That is not...but this was not enough.
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: Because so many people were arriving. So they took, in the forest...There was a forest there.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: They took and made pits.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: These were dug out and wood was packed in. And when the people were brought out from the gas chamber...
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: And so all the people had been gassed.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: They were still alive, because in eight minutes one can still...one still had the soul in him [was still alive]. They were immediately transported in RR-cars from the gas chamber, when taken out from there [?], and right away in RR-cars the people were sent over to the pits. The people were thrown in there, more wood was thrown on top, and fire set to it. And we were...
  • David Boder: With what was it lit?
  • Alexander Gertner: Probably with gasoline.
  • David Boder: Did you see it?
  • Alexander Gertner: Yes. The flames were seen. So we asked, 'What are the flames there?' This we saw first when we didn't know anything about the crematories. So we asked, 'What are the flames?' So we were told by the others who had been there. They said, 'The old things are being burned that people brought along.' And then a day later we found out about the flames. We...we felt the stench. We didn't know what it was...
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: ...what was stinking. And so we were led -- I know what happened -- to the others [?]. And we were taken, the two hundred men. We were led into a bathhouse on the other side. Going on the road...
  • David Boder: How old were you then?
  • Alexander Gertner: Then? It was two years ago.
  • David Boder: So?
  • Alexander Gertner: I was...
  • David Boder: Eighteen...
  • Alexander Gertner: Eighteen. Seventeen and a half years approximately.
  • David Boder: Yes. Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: And so on the road, when I...when all the things were taken away, I took with me...there was a bread lying on the ground, so I picked up a bread. I saw that it is necessary to have a bread with oneself. Whatever is taken away that...and the Phylacteries I took along with me. And on the way...there were very many camps. There were women's lagers. There were on the road leading to the bathhouse...I see women there standing there and begging. Other people are throwing them something to eat. They fall one on top of the other and fight over the food. So I took the bread and threw it in [to them]. So I saw they threw themselves, maybe five, ten, or fifteen women, maybe more, on that bread.
  • David Boder: Were these the women who had been in the lager, or women...
  • Alexander Gertner: In the lager, the lager. They were already behind fences. And from afar I saw an SS woman who was managing them. [She] saw that...that they are grabbing bread, so she chased them away. She beat them. So I said [understood] then, I already knew, I already saw that there is a hunger, because they were grabbing....We didn't know where we were...
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: We were bewildered. We were led to the baths. And so we were all thirsty. We waited till we came to water so that we could fill up with water. And in the meantime we could not go out [satisfy our needs]. Already for a few days we had not gone out, you know what I mean, in the toilet.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: And we...we...
  • David Boder: You mean you have kept back?
  • Alexander Gertner: We kept back with all our strength. We didn't eat in the RR-cars, so that we shouldn't have to go, because it was embarrassing. And...and one couldn't stand it, a crowd [?] of eighty people, when every person should go out.
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Alexander Gertner: You understand? And then we were...when we were...
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: Yes. When we went to the bath, and there first of all there was a ditch, so everybody went and relieved himself. We didn't know what...we didn't know if it was permitted or it was not permitted. We were told to undress nude. We waited in the nude. It was already in the evening. It was cold. We shivered. And they closed...we went inside, and we went to bathe. We entered the bath hall. We were all...we were all told to go into such a water, such a gasoline, that disinfects the body.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: And then we were showered. And so we were crowded in with thousands of people...
  • David Boder: What does it mean, you had to walk into gasoline? What was it, a tub?
  • Alexander Gertner: Yes, in such a bathtub that is...that is...gasoline...there was something. I don't know if it is gasoline or such. It disinfects.
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Alexander Gertner: There shouldn't be...something, different things...
  • David Boder: Diseases.
  • Alexander Gertner: Diseases.
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: We went in, and there we were showered. And when we went under the shower, we drank up more water than...than we used for bathing, because we are very thirsty.
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Alexander Gertner: And then, when we came out, everybody was given a [pair of] pants, these prisoner's pants, striped, and a jacket and a shirt and a cap. This...
  • David Boder: And a cap?
  • Alexander Gertner: And a cap.
  • David Boder: Yes. Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: And then, when we came out, no one could recognize the other. We absolutely couldn't recognize...
  • David Boder: Why?
  • Alexander Gertner: Because we were other, because we were dressed most differently, with a cap, with a...in such...in such a suit.
  • David Boder: The hair wasn't cut?
  • Alexander Gertner: The hair was completely cut off, from head to feet.
  • David Boder: When?
  • Alexander Gertner: Before entering the bath.
  • David Boder: Oh!
  • Alexander Gertner: There stood barbers. They shore us from head to feet, wherever [?]...
  • David Boder: What kind of barbers? With what did they cut?
  • Alexander Gertner: With scissors, with different...they tore it together with the flesh.
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: You understand? And then, when we had been...finished, when we were finished up with the machines, we went in small groups, still in a line, into...into the bath hall.
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: When we came out, we absolutely couldn't recognize one another. And here we see how...how one comes out. He shows that he has a blue back, that he had been beaten in...still in the Ghetto, because in the Ghetto it was still so, till that, for instance, the rich people, who were known in town to be rich...
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Alexander Gertner: ...and were known as rich people, they were beaten [by] the Hungarian soldiers of the Hungarian army, that they should hand over the gold and the money that they had hidden.
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: They were beaten. There was such a mangler.
  • David Boder: A what?
  • Alexander Gertner: A mangler. That was a house, such a house that was called a mangler [a barn housing a mangling machine for cold pressing of clothes].
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: They were taken in there, and they were beaten till [near] death [so] they should tell...to tell everything, where one hid the money and the gold. There was still such a Jew who had been there, in that mangler. In the same...
  • David Boder: Mangler was called the place?
  • Alexander Gertner: That house was called mangler, yes.
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: And so he showed what a blue back he had from the beating.
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: An incident [?]. And then, when we had been bathed, we had...it was already late at night. It was already approxiamtely twelve at night. We...we were put in a row, and we were led, and...
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: Dark--we did not see anything. We were led. What do we see? We saw only the flames...flames, huge flames, maybe up to fifty meters in height. We saw flames and smoke.
  • David Boder: From where? From the pits or...
  • Alexander Gertner: From...from the pits. From the crematories such flames didn't come out, because they had a chimney.
  • David Boder: Yes...
  • Alexander Gertner: And the...
  • David Boder: ...a smokestack.
  • Alexander Gertner: Yes, a smokestack.
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: When we came back, we were taken into a block, into a wooden block, there in the Gypsy lager.
  • David Boder: All right. Why was it called the Gypsy lager? Yes?
  • Alexander Gertner: In the Gypsy lager there were Gypsies. They had been already longer in camp. And they...they supervised us. They beat with...every little Gypsy was beating. He had a big stick. Such a small child, and he beat...
  • David Boder: Whom did he beat?
  • Alexander Gertner: Everybody, whoever was close he had the right to beat.
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: So we...we came in at twelve o'clock at night into that lager. We didn't know anything. So there came in one Gypsy, a tall one, with a club. He says, 'Whoever has money hidden on him, or gold, should immediately hand it over!' If it should be found on someone he will shoot him immediately. And we...we said...
  • David Boder: What language did he speak?
  • Alexander Gertner: German.
  • David Boder: German. A Gypsy.
  • Alexander Gertner: Yes.
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: And he went...
  • David Boder: Why was it called the Gypsy lager?
  • Alexander Gertner: Because...because...because there lived Gypsies. There were like this: Lager 'A', Lager 'B', Lager 'C'. There were numbers, and this was a Gypsy lager.
  • David Boder: And the little ones lived there...
  • Alexander Gertner: Yes.
  • David Boder: ...with them?
  • Alexander Gertner: Yes, as prisoners, too.
  • David Boder: They were...
  • Alexander Gertner: They were there together with the women and children. They could live together with the women and children.
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: And so at night...
  • David Boder: And they...they were assigned over you?
  • Alexander Gertner: Yes. They were assigned over us. They were the block elders and room elders, and so forth.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: At night...it was already around three, four. And so we were harangued that we should hand over quickly, and before going to sleep, everybody should hand over everything. There were a few people who had something with them. They surrendered it. And we lay down on the brick [floor]. We were there approximately a thousand people in the barrack. We simply lay one on top of the other. And at four in the morning we were...
  • David Boder: Where did you...on what did you lie down?
  • Alexander Gertner: On the brick. On the brick [a colloqualism].
  • David Boder: What does it mean, on the brick?
  • Alexander Gertner: On the earth. On the floor.
  • David Boder: Aha. Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: Then in the morning at four o'clock...
  • David Boder: Wait a moment. Tell me one thing. What was dome afterwards with the Gypsies?
  • Alexander Gertner: With the Gypsies? That was later. They were all gassed too. They were all...
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: That was already later. We will come to that later.
  • David Boder: Good. And so?
  • Alexander Gertner: And when we were...in the morning at four we were already awakened. Here we see smoke. Outside we see fog. It is still dark. It is only four in the morning. We had no sleep whatsoever. We only had gone to sleep an hour ago. And so we are being awakened. We are already beaten. 'Get up!' And so we got up. And approximately in...in two, three hours was brought a barrel with black coffee. It was dragged in. We fought one with another. We got...we got...whoever could fight was able to get a little coffee. Black it was. Whoever couldn't, didn't get...
  • David Boder: In what was it taken?
  • Alexander Gertner: In...in different bowls, dirty bowls. There were no bowls altogether. There were two, three bowls. So one grabbed it. Five to ten people had one bowl, and so...
  • David Boder: A container?
  • Alexander Gertner: A container.
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Alexander Gertner: And later...and so this...this was over with the coffee. We again had finished. We were not permitted to leave the block.
  • David Boder: Nu.
  • Alexander Gertner: We had to stay inside the block. At noon we did not get anything. In the evening one came first to call the row, how many we are. In the evening there came a block elder, listed everyone carefully. Listed. And so the first day we did not get any food. That was on a Monday. And only Tuesday night we first got a piece of bread, on Monday they had to register everybody and report the number so they could get the bread for us. So we got for five people one little piece of bread--five people a bread. That is, a lager bread weighed a kilo twenty [1200 grams]. Heavy bread, it was made with...with wood...
  • David Boder: What does that mean, with wood?
  • Alexander Gertner: With...with saw...with sawdust it was made.
  • David Boder: Do you know that for sure?
  • Alexander Gertner: Yes. That is a hundred per cent [sure].
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: And it was given to everybody, five people to a bread, and...
  • David Boder: Wait a minute [adjusting the recorder]. Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: Is it set?
  • David Boder: Yes. And so?
  • Alexander Gertner: And so in the morning [possibly a slip for the evening] we were given the bread After this we had to go to sleep. We didn't have any...any more to eat. It was Tuesday already, the third day. On Tuesday at noon we were given a little soup. They brought...there were such...such square boxes [containers]. It was brought...in that the food was brought, in such as is brought, carried, here the dirt. There were such square...made out of boards. In this the midday meal was brought. At the midday meal was brought...there was also given to five, to six people a pl-...a bowl. We have...everybody gave a sip. One took a sip, the second took a sip, and the third...
  • David Boder: You did not have spoons?
  • Alexander Gertner: Spoons, positively not. To have knives and spoons was positively not permitted. Everyone took a sip. So in a turn we did...if one took two sips, the other already cried, 'What, nothing will be left for me.' And then when we...that is how much we got. It came out to two, three sips for each, and it was over. And with this...so we were in that Gypsy lager five days. Then we were dragged around all day on the appell. That's what was going on all day. All...three times a day it was. All day sitting outside. There was a frightful mud [in Polish]. Frightful mud, what is it called in German?
  • David Boder: Yes. That is all right. Mire. Dirt.
  • Alexander Gertner: Yes, dirt. We stood all day in the mud at appell. It was...once or twice the SS came to count us, but the rest of the time the Gypsies made with us 'caps off' and 'caps on'. That we learned. If one didn't do it right he got a beating. From everyone, from the smallest Gypsy, one could get a beating.
  • David Boder: What did the small Gypsies do?
  • Alexander Gertner: They have...they were children. They were the children of the older ones. They were there. They also ordered us around. They saw that the older ones were beating so they also beat.
  • David Boder: So...and?
  • Alexander Gertner: [With sarcasm:] It was a good deed to beat [us].
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: And the...and so the whole day we sat [spent] at appell, in the morasses. And so we...we prayed to God to get away already from this lager. We saw that we could not stand this. It was frightful, this lager. Everybody was...there was not one who didn't get a beating. And five days we were in this lager. We were moved from one block to another. Every day we were moved to another block, because there were constant changes. Here had arrived new people. Here were too many. Here were too few. And so then we were taken to another lager. They selected...people with skills were ordered to report. Those who had learned a trade should report. I too, reported as a carpenter.
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Alexander Gertner: And I was selected. Also later I was put among the carpenters. I was taken away to another lager. Together with me were taken approximately two thousand people. We were in the middle of the distribution of supper. It hadn't reached me yet, and I was ordered already to drag myself on to...to Lager 'A'. So we came...
  • David Boder: Oh. This was right Birkenau...
  • Alexander Gertner: Right in Birkenau, but there were many lagers [sectors].
  • David Boder: ...but in a different section?
  • Alexander Gertner: In another section, to another lager. There were various lagers.
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Alexander Gertner: We arrived in Lager 'A'. It rained frightfully heavily. We...we couldn't get through. There were...there were so many morasses...
  • David Boder: It rained?
  • Alexander Gertner: It rained. There were morasses, with stones, so slippery...
  • David Boder: Yes, sodden.
  • Alexander Gertner: Sodden. We arrived there in the camp. We were put in. There were such three storied beds--not beds, wide plank-beds.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: We were put in there. It was wet from the rain, because there was no good roof. It rained in. When we came in one threw himself on another so that we just could remain lying down. On the next day we were lined up. Everybody's data were taken down, how old he is, where he was born, and all that. I reported myself at that time as being older, because it was said that the lager accepts only those over eighteen years of age. I was then under eighteen. So I reported myself as born in '24.
  • David Boder: Did they believe you?
  • Alexander Gertner: They believed me, because I looked older, because I looked bad.
  • David Boder: Born in '24. That means that you were...
  • Alexander Gertner: That I was twenty years old.
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: That I should be taken for work.
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Alexander Gertner: And then...the next day we were called up, and then they began to tattoo. Everybody was tattooed. Everybody was...
  • David Boder: Who did the tattooing?
  • Alexander Gertner: There were such people. They stood there lined up.
  • David Boder: Also prisoners?
  • Alexander Gertner: Also prisoners. Everything was done by prisoners.
  • David Boder: Yes. Jewish?
  • Alexander Gertner: That I don't know, whether Jewish, Polish, different nationalities.
  • David Boder: Nu? Did the tattooing hurt?
  • Alexander Gertner: It hurt, but...it swelled up a little at first. He stood there with such a piece of wood, a pointed one dipped in ink, and he struck. He did not care whether one was silent or one spoke. He [each one] was given a number, this number beaten in...this number. So in a line [one after another] it went very fast.
  • David Boder: With what? With a needle or with...
  • Alexander Gertner: With such a wooden...such a piece of wood, a pointed piece of wood.
  • David Boder: This was used for tattooing?
  • Alexander Gertner: Yes.
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: And then when they had finished with all the tattooing...we were two thousand people...and we were lined up. We were led to Auschwitz. Well, we didn't know at first where we were being led to. We came...when we marched in the direction of the railroad station, we believed that we are already going to another lager, to another place. We thanked God that we were already going away from this...from this place. Coming to the railroad station, crossing the railroad station, we said, 'Oh, again we are not going away from here.' We come to the other side of the railroad station. We come in there. We already see prisoners working not far from the lager, also in the same kind of clothes, in these white and blue...in blue-white [striped] clothes.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: So we ask, 'What's here?' They are not permitted to answer, because they have over them the over...the capos. They were not permitted to answer.
  • David Boder: And what were the rules? One was not permitted to talk?
  • Alexander Gertner: One wasn't permitted to talk with...with a strange person.
  • David Boder: And who explained to you what was permitted and what was not permitted?
  • Alexander Gertner: It was not explained. We saw that for this one gets beaten, so we knew that this was not permitted. They...they did not explain, 'this you can't do.' If one did something, even [if] it was right, one [the capo] also gave a blow with a club.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: And then when we came [words not clear].
  • David Boder: [Words not clear.] Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: So nobody was taught what he had to do, what one had to do. They only beat. This was first of all. One was struck. One was beaten. And so we had arrived...continued marching, these two thousand people. We are tired. We come...we arrive in front...there stands...we see a gate. We already see wires. We see here the wires of a lager. On the gate is written...before the gate everybody stopped. We were counted. We see it is written on the gate: 'Work makes free.'
  • David Boder: Yes. Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: We went through the gate. Everybody was counted fifteen times, from the front and from the back. We entered. We were made to stand there on the street. We were standing in the lager, in Auschwitz. We stood in the street maybe two, three hours till evening.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: And we stood there. Later we were taken in groups and taken to the bath hall. There, too, we were bathed.
  • David Boder: [Words not clear.]
  • Alexander Gertner: We entered. We were bathed there. The clothes were taken away. The clothes were taken to be disinfected. And we were left naked. And we had to run to Block 6. There was a block where also...
  • David Boder: What does it mean, naked?
  • Alexander Gertner: Completely naked, [words not clear].
  • David Boder: And the shoes?
  • Alexander Gertner: Nothing, nothing. Only the shoes were...the shoes were held in the hands.
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: The shoes we...the shoes we could hold in the hands [could take with us], because the shoes were not disinfected.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: We had to run with the shoes in the hand, and...till Block 6.
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: There in Block 6...we entered. We were put in there. There were three-tiered beds. Two people to a bed, we were put in there.
  • David Boder: [In English:] This concludes Spool 77. We continue with Mr. Alexander Gertner on Spool number 78.
  • David Boder: Spool number 78, continuation of Spool number 77. Geneva [Switzerland], August 26, 1946, at the home for displaced Jews. Mr. Alexander Gertner continuing.
  • David Boder: [In Yiddish:] And so you entered there, and you were running naked...
  • Alexander Gertner: Naked, and we ran...
  • David Boder: ...with the shoes in one's hand.
  • Alexander Gertner: With the shoes in the hand we ran into Block 6, and there we were thrown into the beds that...two men to a bed, and there in this block...
  • David Boder: Two to a bed?
  • Alexander Gertner: Two to a bed. A three-tiered bed, such a narrow one, from eighty [centimeters] to a meter in width. It wasn't a meter. It was eighty or seventy centimeters wide. And there were...in this block were Poles. Polish gentiles were barrack chiefs and room chiefs. They were frightfully bad...
  • David Boder: A little slower.
  • Alexander Gertner: And they waited there with brooms. They were screaming in Polish. We didn't understand them. They were screaming. We didn't know what they wanted. All they did was slap. So in this block we were...
  • David Boder: And they were prisoners?
  • Alexander Gertner: Also prisoners, yes. And so there we...we lay in bed naked. We didn't have the clothes. The clothes were given to disin-...it was taken away from us. And so this night we passed the night naked. In the morning we were given only the shirt. They were shirts already...everybody was lined up. We were given the shirts, and since we already stood in line, also a little black coffee simultaneously. And then later, at dinnertime [noon/, it was ordered that dinner should be brought. So people immediately were running for dinner.
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Alexander Gertner: And so when it was dinner [time], we dragged [ourselves] to dinner. It was brought. We were hungry, because already for two days we had not eaten. That means the day when we were led away from Ausch-...from Birkenau we did not eat, because there already we could not get any food. Only on the third day, when we were accepted [registered], were we given to eat. It was already the third day...
  • David Boder: And so tell me one thing.
  • Alexander Gertner: Yes?
  • David Boder: How does one feel when one does not get any food for three days?
  • Alexander Gertner: Well, one feels how it gnaws at the heart. One feels like one is falling down. The blood, it becomes from day to day weaker. One feels that one is falling down, and one feels one can't get up. When one sits down, one can't rise again. One feels terrible...
  • David Boder: Well, you had fasted on Yom Kippur [Day of Atonement]. That is one day...
  • Alexander Gertner: Yes.
  • David Boder: ...and a night.
  • Alexander Gertner: Yes.
  • David Boder: Nu, but how did it feel when one does not get any food?
  • Alexander Gertner: On Yom Kippur we...
  • David Boder: Did you try to eat any other things, to bite [chew] at something?
  • Alexander Gertner: What could one bite? There was nothing there but the stones to bite. There was nothing that one could bite. One couldn't bite anything.
  • David Boder: And the people who smoked, did they have anything to smoke?
  • Alexander Gertner: They didn't have. They fought [?] for it. One gave a puff, the other got a puff, the third a puff...
  • David Boder: From the same [each other's] mouth.
  • Alexander Gertner: From the same mouth, yes. When one had something, it was sold. One gave away the piece of bread if he was a heavy smoker for...for...for a cigarette. I fortunately [?] am not a smoker.
  • David Boder: Who is not a smoker?
  • Alexander Gertner: I don't smoke.
  • David Boder: Oh. [Words not clear.] Nu? And so?
  • Alexander Gertner: And then...and so I was in Block 6 [words not clear]. For us came little food. We were not yet counted as workers. The other people in Auschwitz were already working. We were not workers. We were in Block 6. And so we spent there eight days...
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: ...eight days. It was frightful. In the daytime...in the daytime we were made to stand all day on appell. They counted. Again they counted. Again registered. Again counted. And at night, at ten o'clock, we had to go to sleep, and at half past two one was awakened. In Auschwitz one was awakened at half past two...
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: ...German...German [Berlin] time.
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Alexander Gertner: German [word not clear]. And then, when we were already regist-...there arrived an SS superior officer, asked everybody what his trade was. And everybody was told to step forward separately [by trades], and I was then...I was then picked also as a carpenter. I was picked as a carpenter. I was taken there together with eight other people into the DAW, German Assembly [Equipment] Works.
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: I was taken there. I was led into the Machine Room....There was a machine room where there were only machines. And the DAW...it was...twelve hundred people worked there, prisoners.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: There were various halls. And so I was taken into the machine room. There was a foreman, a civilian, a German. Not a prisoner, a gentile [?]. So he calls me over, [and] says, 'What can you do?' I told him that I can work on machines. I told him that I can do everything. I should be taken on quickly and taught [instructed]. So he put me at a band saw, a band [?] saw, a machine, a certain job, a job [?].
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: And so he saw [that I worked] with another one. I helped the other. and so he didn't like it. He put me together with a Pole at such a saw, also such a saw [words not clear].
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: He put me there. He wanted the new people to...he enjoyed it if somebody cut off his finger. Everyday we saw fingers on the ground. Such people were put on [the machines] who never had any idea about machines. So immediately he would cut off his finger. The first day he already told me to work the machine by myself. I should cut by myself. When he saw that I watched, I didn't cut off my finger so quick, he said that I am not to his liking. I was put out. I worked there for two days, and it wasn't to his liking. I was put out. The capo took me and led me into Hall 'C', already a different hall, not [entirely] a machine room. There were a lot of machines, too, but bench work was also done there.
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: Carpentry...carpenter benches, hand...hand...yes, hand work. And so I was asked there, 'What can you do?' 'I know...I know hand work. I can work by machines.' Good. I am put at a machine together with a Jew, a Jew from Lithuania. I was put also...also a supervisor [?].
  • David Boder: A Christian?
  • Alexander Gertner: No, a Jewish one.
  • David Boder: So?
  • Alexander Gertner: I am put there. I worked there with him. And so with this man...I worked with him for a few weeks.
  • David Boder: What was manufactured in this place?
  • Alexander Gertner: We did...we did...In this DAW we worked at various things. It was...
  • David Boder: In what [where]? What was it called?
  • Alexander Gertner: In DAW. D-A-W.
  • David Boder: D-A-W.
  • Alexander Gertner: That was the name. German Assembly [Equipment] Works, [words not clear; sounds like: in a church].
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: And...and so there, in that factory, were made various beds for lagers, all the things mostly for the lagers.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: Beds and varous things of wood [?]. Various things for constructions. We...we manufactured there a lot of things. There I worked with the Jew...
  • David Boder: Where did they get the boards [lumber] from?
  • Alexander Gertner: They brought in. Rr-cars [loaded] with boards were brought. There was a siding laid right into the factory.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: And the machine...by train the materials were brought in.
  • David Boder: Hm. Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: Boards. Ready products were shipped out. And so we worked there...we worked eleven hours a day, from six to six, one hour for dinner.
  • David Boder: Hm. What did one do during this hour [?]?
  • Alexander Gertner: We got up. We got up, that is, at three thirty in this section [?].
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: Up at three thirty, and one had...one had to wash quickly, and...one had to wash quickly. And after washing we got a little piece of bread. Sometimes we got the bread in the evening. Sometimes we got it in the morning. It depended on when the bread arrived, and one...
  • David Boder: If one got it in the evening was it...
  • Alexander Gertner: It was eaten up in the evening. And he didn't have...nothing was given in the morning.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: Some saved a piece for the morning. A little piece of bread one could save. In the morning one got up quickly. After washing up we had to make the bed.
  • David Boder: Where did one hide it [the saved bread]?
  • Alexander Gertner: Where did one hide it? Under the head.
  • David Boder: Under the head?
  • Alexander Gertner: Under the head [pillow?].
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: Many people [?] had it stolen.
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: And...and after washing up, we had to make the bed the right was. If one didn't make the bed exactly the right way, if it wasn't aligned exactly...he had to measure exactly so that it would be right [?].
  • David Boder: What does it mean, making the bed?
  • Alexander Gertner: Making the bed...and so...
  • David Boder: Were there blankets?
  • Alexander Gertner: Straighten out blankets. There such straw sacks with...with...
  • David Boder: How many people slept in one bed?
  • Alexander Gertner: Two.
  • David Boder: Two.
  • Alexander Gertner: At the beginning. Then when the population thinned out we slept only one in a bed. There were such three-tiered beds. One climbed on top of another one. Narrow beds, very narrow.
  • David Boder: And with whom did one sleep?
  • Alexander Gertner: With whom? With whomever one was assigned. With whom one was told we had to sleep. There was no debate [?] [an unfinished word] ....We had to make the bed perfectly. And later we were chased out into the street [outdoors]. It was still dark. After we were chased out on the street, there one had to stand. In the summer it wasn't so terrible yet. But in the winter there were frightful snows. We had to stand until three...[correction] until five thirty. At five thirty we fell in and...fell in, and immediately marched. And at six o'clock we passed already through the gate. There we were counted. Everyone was given...was assigned to a labor detail. Every labor detail went to its work. We were taken over. The SS took us over. There were those who worked outside in town...in town, but far, maybe a kilometer, away from the lager. The SS accompanied, and those who worked in the lager proper had capos, i.e., overseers from among the prisoners themselves [?].
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: And I worked in the DAW. It happened that it was a little far, so sentries came there with us.
  • David Boder: Who came there?
  • Alexander Gertner: Sentries led us, German, well, SS who watched...who watched that we shouldn't run away. With arms in the hands. We shouldn't run away. And so there I worked in the munitions factory with that Jew [?] by the machine. I helped out. And then the capo came over. He didn't like [it] that I worked there. It isn't good, he says. I don't help much, and he doesn't like it.
  • David Boder: What was not good?
  • Alexander Gertner: That I don't help good. He doesn't...he doesn't like it that I work there. So he sent me over to another machine. He beat me and such. I knew that I will be thrown out of here. I was put at another--also with another Jew there--at another machine. I had to help there. So I was sent around from one machine to another. They themselves didn't know [what it was about]. Not only me, everybody was changed around. [Pause.]
  • David Boder: So you were going from one machine to another. Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: Yes. We were [unfinished word]...but I worked. From one machine to another. I was sent from one place to another. It lasted three months. Three months I worked in the...the DAW. And there were already too many people. Sometimes this happened, that they sent [too many], because they didn't know what to do with the people. There were so many people they didn't have some kind of work to give them. The work was tossed around. It was like this there. We worked there on Sunday. Well, six days a week we worked for eleven hours, and on Sunday we worked...every second Sunday and sometimes every Sunday. We had to...the Sunday work was even more terrible for us that the whole week.
  • David Boder: But did the Germans, the SS, work too [?]?
  • Alexander Gertner: Yes. There were, of course, SS, and there were also prisoners, gentiles, Jews. Well, gentiles. At first there were no Jewish [supervisers], at the beginning. And so they beat and struck.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: And so Sunday it was thus. We had to load all the things that we made during the week. We had to load them on wagons. And the dirt, the sawdust...the loading was terrible. Quick, with a haste [a tempo] we had to run up with...with the...with the wheelbarrows, as they were called, onto the...the wagons. On Sunday we had to load all the things that we had made there during the past week. You understand?
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: And like this I worked in the factory. It was only half the grief, because at least we worked there under a roof.
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Alexander Gertner: The others...there were others who worked in the snow and rain. This they couldn't survive.
  • David Boder: [Whispers:] Don't talk away [from the microphone].
  • Alexander Gertner: Yes.
  • David Boder: Nu, and?
  • Alexander Gertner: So there we worked. We worked under a roof. And so, near us there worked in the DAW...they had the 'Union Factory.' There worked--that was a munitions factory--there worked approximately seven hundred men and seven hundred women, day shift and night shift.
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: By day, at noon we had an hour for dinner [recess]. At noon, one hour. But the girls had only half an hour.
  • David Boder: Why?
  • Alexander Gertner: Because they had less [produced less?]. They had to work longer. And we ran...we finished the food quickly and ran fast to see whether there were not any relatives or acquaintances among them [?]. But we could not talk to them, because there was such a street that separated us, and the wires, high wires. But we watched. If no SS were passing by, or a capo, we could say a word...
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: ...on the sly.
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: To find out some news. So sometimes transports from Birkenau to Auschwitz passed by. They came to bathe, to be disinfected. Girls passed by, looking frightful. One couldn't recognize [them]. They were walking in rags, almost naked. They were shorn, with naked heads. And so one girl called me by name, and I couldn't recognize her. [She was] from our town. I didn't recognize her. She looked frightful. She was...we made wooden spoons in the factory, various things, so they should have something to eat with. They begged for spoons, knives, forks, no matter what, so they should have something to eat with. And so we made them wooden spoons in...in the factory.
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: And so like this I worked in this factory for three months.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: Till September, '44. And there...then I was taken with another hundred people, and I was put out from the factory, because there were too many people. They didn't have work to do for the people, so they put them out. Then I was taken, and so the next day at appell it was noticed that the people who were put out were assigned to constructions. That was the...the worst kind of work that was...these people...
  • David Boder: To what?
  • Alexander Gertner: The worst work. Construction it was called.
  • David Boder: Construction?
  • Alexander Gertner: Yes, that was the name of the labor detail. That consisted of unloading bricks, wagons with bricks, with cement, with stones, with various heavy things, and at a fast pace [a tempo].
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: We had to unload a whole wagon of bricks in ten minutes. Frightful. A few people, because the wagons quickly...had to be moved quickly...
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: ...so that new ones could come quickly.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: That was the most frightful work. I thought in this...in this factory I won't last more than a few days.
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: At this construction. And so, God is...thank God, I worked there only one day. It was terrible, and so already the next day there came a labor official, also a pris-...a prisoner, and I and a few other people were chosen for another labor detail. We were brought to the other labor detail. They said, 'Trage Halle'. That was the name of the detail...
  • David Boder: What name?
  • Alexander Gertner: Trage Halle [the word Trage is either not clear, or is a special term meaning a garage or automobile repair shop]. That was a labor detail.
  • David Boder: Trage?
  • Alexander Gertner: Trage Halle.
  • David Boder: Yes. What was it?
  • Alexander Gertner: That was a car factory [shop].
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: That was a...well, we fixed, we repaired there the S...there was there a...there was...an SS [detail] lived there, a barrack, large quarters where the SS lived. In these were all chauffers. All had trucks.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: And these...that had to be repaired at...or these...these...something had to be repaired. But mostly there were machines [motors] to be overhauled. Because they had machines [motors] that ran on gasoline. So we converted them for wood, because they did not have gasoline that is used.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: We put in such boilers. We made this...this was...this was the labor detail, the Trage Halle, and there [?]...
  • David Boder: Do you know why it was called Trage Halle?
  • Alexander Gertner: So it was called. I don't know why.
  • David Boder: Nu? Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: And then I was...I was assigned there, assigned to a capo, a State [real] German. He was frightfully mean. The new people who arrived, the arrivals, the new ones, were called the arrivals. He came over...yes! We...we came there, eighteen people. We were called the bunker builders. We were brought over to him, because they wanted to build there air-raid shelters, such pits with cement, fixed [?] to hide things there. For instance, all kinds of ammunitions, various things.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: Soon they needed additional people. So we were brought over.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: And so we were brought over. We had a separate capo. He also had come together with us. So we were taken out on a field near the factory. And we had...we made bunkers, air-raid shelters. Like this we made the bunkers. It was [word not clear]. We several times measured the corners. took lime, did the masonry, and various [word not clear], and built air-raid shelters. I still want to mention it happened to be exactly Yom Kippur [Day of Atonement, a fast day], so I fasted. And at that time we had to...
  • David Boder: Was it bad to fast?
  • Alexander Gertner: What?
  • David Boder: Was it hard to fast?
  • Alexander Gertner: It was hard. We had no strength [?], but we exerted ourselves, because we knew...anyway how long...as long as we live, let us at least fast on Yom Kippur.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: I remember we...we pre-fasted [took the last meal before starting the fast].
  • David Boder: How did you know the date? How did you know...
  • Alexander Gertner: We...we knew. Everything was figured out in the head, in different ways. It was exact, approximately [the word is obviously used out of place, by 'inertia'].
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: There were Jews there who had...who knew exactly when they had arrived, what the date was at that time. One knew. I was there with another few Jews, religious men who...We saved the bread from the previous day and a little margarine that we had received there. And we hid it there. And so it was near the evening at...at work when we were already ordered to fall in to return to the lager. So we hid ourselves there between the lumber, and...and we wanted to pre-fast [take the pre-fast meal]. We were missing. We had tarried a little.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: A little. We had to do it so quickly. It lasted...it could have lasted five minutes. Suddenly we are being looked for. We didn't know. We were hiding. Later on one comes yelling [?], 'Hi, you are being looked for.' So we already got some beating, a few blows [?]. We returned, and so the next day--I still remember--on Yom Kippur...
  • David Boder: What happened? Others received the beating?
  • Alexander Gertner: We got the beating.
  • David Boder: You got the beating?
  • Alexander Gertner: Yes, because we were a few minutes late. The next day, on Yom Kippur, we worked at...there was such a tractor which pulled heavy cement [possibly blocks], heavy concrete. The air-raid shelters were built with concrete so it couldn't be bombed [through].
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: So we had to lay it out quick, while the tractor was moving, and lift quickly, and put underneath such round pieces of lumber so that the tractor should roll the concrete [blocks?] that...that...
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: ...on these poles, and besides this, to lift it up with...with such levers. This was on Yom Kippur. I remember, the most fright-...the hardest work we had done happened on Yom Kippur.
  • David Boder: But the capos, the SS didn't know that it was Yom Kippur.
  • Alexander Gertner: What do they know about Yom Kippur! We didn't...and so...so it was. And so on those air-raid shelters we worked there for four weeks.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: The building of the bunkers was finished, so we were taken to chop wood. There was...the autos...they had to run on wood, because they made these cars with such boilers that had to burn not gasoline, but wood. There was a huge hall, and we chopped wood. There was a machine...
  • David Boder: Was the sawdust not good for that?
  • Alexander Gertner: The sawdust was shipped some place else. That was not used for the cars.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: And so there was a hall. There was a machine that sawed. One [person sawed there, and the other two chopped with an ax. Why is it hard to chop the wood? It was like this. I, too, was taken over there to work. The work there was also terrible. We had to work fast, just work. Everyone had to finish four such...such rows of wood. That was such an assignment [?]. If one could not do it quickly, or it was bad wood, he...it was frightful. He caught a beating. And so I worked there also. In that hall I also worked for a few weeks. Thank God later came...came the capo, and he asked if somebody would go to the paint shop. There were, for instance, the cars which had been repaired. They were taken to the paint shop, and there they were painted.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: They were painted there. So he precisely selected me and another Jew. 'You go to the paint shop.'
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: In the paint shop. We come in there. There was the...the foreman, also a prisoner, a Pole, a gentile.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: It was [mockingly:], 'Ah, a Kike, a Jew.' A Kike, for us. Where, what...[without concern] what language one knows.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: Good, so here we had to work.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: What was our assigned work to be? We had to shine the autos clean. The autos had to...the old paint, the old metal, the old paint had to be scraped off. We had to crawl under the cars and everything. Dirt went into the eyes. Everything had to be cleaned well so that the auto could be sprayed. Nothing should remain of the old [paint].
  • David Boder: You sprayed the...
  • Alexander Gertner: I didn't spray, the overseer did.
  • David Boder: Yes, but with [words not clear].
  • Alexander Gertner: [Words not clear].
  • David Boder: [Words not clear].
  • Alexander Gertner: Yes. And so this...in this hall were...the work there was terribly dirty, with dust. We killed ourselves and...but yet it was under a roof, not out in the rain. The construction of the air-raid shelters was still outside.
  • David Boder: Well then [?]...
  • Alexander Gertner: Yes, and then we were there under the master. He was yelling that we should hurry up. A car came. He finished it fast, because he received some food from the SS. The master got it. He used to get sometimes a bread...
  • David Boder: He was a prisoner?
  • Alexander Gertner: ...a little margarine. He was a prisoner, a gentile. He never gave us anything. I found once some carrots in a car. He saw when I brought them in. He was ready to kill me. To starve so badly [?]...and [he] scolded me for taking them.
  • David Boder: Hm. They were there in the car?
  • Alexander Gertner: Yes. And so in this...in this detail I worked. The detail was horrible, because by then it was already winter, September, October, December. It was winter. We had to go out very early, at six o'clock. It was three kilometers from Auschwitz, from the camp. We had to march quickly, because we couldn't take more than ten, fifteen minutes to get there. It was terrible with the wooden soles. We had wooden shoes, such thick wooden shoes. The snow stuck underneath the shoes.
  • David Boder: The snow stuck, nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: The snow stuck to the shoes, so we couldn't walk, because they are round [Dutch type wooden shoes].
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: And then we were...like this we...I worked there in that detail approximately, well, till the last...till January, till January the 15th.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: It was...this detail was...was...was very bad, because of the marching there and the hard work, but it wasn't half as bad as for the others. Other details were worse yet. There were better ones and worse ones. And so we were...at the end the legs were frozen from the...from the marching, from the snow, from standing outside. Sometimes there was an appell. For instance, some were missing. Russian [prisoners] often escaped from the lager. They ran away, and if the count wasn't right....In the evening when we were returning from the lager...[correction] from work, we stood on appell, counted every night, everyone in front of his barrack. The barrack chief came. He had to hand in to the SS how many people he has, and the SS man had to hand in to the report chief. The report chief handed it to the lager commandant.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: We all had to stand with the hats off outside in the snow, in the worst frosts. And if one was missing, we stood approximately for two, three hours. One could...and if he wasn't found, we had to go outside in the morning before work and stand again for two, three hours.
  • David Boder: If you were standing [idle] before going to work then you were not working.
  • Alexander Gertner: No, so we got up earlier. We got up earlier. We had to, if it was known so we should not...that...if the count wasn't right. And so I worked till...till...till the 15th of January there in that Trage Halle. On the 15th we couldn't work there any more. There had been bombings not far from there. The railroad station was bombed.
  • David Boder: Who had bombed it?
  • Alexander Gertner: The Americans probably.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: And...and the road was bombed. We couldn't go, so we remained in the block. We worked there inside the lager, whatever there was to do, various labors, heavy labors.
  • David Boder: How did the SS feel during the bombing? How did they...
  • Alexander Gertner: They...they were terribly excited. They...in one word, they wanted to devour us. Then they were terribly enraged when bombing occurred.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: There was a bombing raid once. I remember, we were then at work. A bombing occurred. We were there on the road on which we marched from the lager to the Trage Halle. There were nearby the SS barracks. And there were at the same time also...prisoners working there. There were nearby factories, leather, shoe-repair shops, tailoring shops, various kinds. And so there had been killed at that time eighty SS men and approximately a hundred prisoners also.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: They were terrified [?], the SS, altogether. In the confusion [?] they wanted to devour the whole camp. We were told to fall in at once, in the middle of work, immediately to return to camp. We didn't know what went on. And so towards the end there were air-raids every day and night. Yom Kippur [Day of Atonement] and Rosh Hashana [New Year's] we had at least, thank God...we could go into the air-raid shelter. During an air-raid we could conduct a little service. We could say a Shemona Esra [the principle section, the high points of the services]. We could unburden ourselves a bit by weeping. When we saw that there were air-raids...
  • David Boder: Were you permitted to go into shelters?
  • Alexander Gertner: It was so. During a raid...there was there such a shelter [?], such a bunker had been made with...with trees around and around, so strewn around so that it should not be seen that there are people, because if there are people...
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: ...they were afraid that they will be bombed, the SS.
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: So we were sent into the bunker. We had to run in there. And this could last for an hour or two, till the raid passed.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: And during such time we could pray a little. Then...so it went on till the 18th of January. On the 18th of January we...we had to...in the morning, still on the 15th, a transport had left...left. And later it was said that the whole camp has to leave. Yes, I forgot...
  • David Boder: All that happened when you were in Birken-...
  • Alexander Gertner: Then in Auschwitz.
  • David Boder: In Auschwitz, not Birkenau.
  • Alexander Gertner: I forgot to mention this. In the meantime, two months before, there was a selection. There were selections every few weeks among the sick, various ones who looked weak. But this selection was for the whole camp. Everybody had to...in the nude. During one night everyone naked had to pass through the bath hall. Whoever looked weak or...on one side stood the report chief, on the other side the clerk. And whose ever number he wrote down, they were immediately gathered and taken away to the crematory. For seven hundred people it was to be taken away at that time. The date was between Rosh Hoshana [New Year's]...between Rosh Hoshana and the Holy Day, approxiamately.
  • David Boder: When?
  • Alexander Gertner: This happened.
  • David Boder: Between Rosh Hoshana and what?
  • Alexander Gertner: And the Holy Day [in Hebrew].
  • David Boder: What is that?
  • Alexander Gertner: That is a religious [term]. The Holy Day is...
  • David Boder: When?
  • Alexander Gertner: ...Yom Kippur.
  • David Boder: Yes, nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: And so on the 18the of January we all went away. For the road we were given a bread and a little margarine. We were marching. There was heavy snow. We were told to fall in and all have to leave quickly. We saw the SS burned everything. The papers that were in the lager and everything was burned. And the sick remained there in the lager. Everybody who could walk had to fall in, and we left on Thursday.
  • David Boder: And the women?
  • Alexander Gertner: The women were not with us in the lager. We were only men.
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: The women also marched. They were in Birkenau, in another lager. And so on the 18th of January we went away, on Thursday afternoon. I remember, in the heaviest snow we march at night. We don't know where we are going, with things which we had with us. And we marched like this for two days and two nights. In front of us marched the women from Birkenau. We marched altogether thirty thousand people. Birkenau went. Buna was another lager.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: And in that Buna, alas, had been my fater. I...I...
  • David Boder: In Buna was...
  • Alexander Gertner: In Buna, my fater. I didn't see him. In October, '44, there had come...there had come a few people from Buna to Auschwitz.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: They came as skilled workers, [since] they had reported as skilled people.
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Alexander Gertner: They came to work in the shoe shop.
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: So they told me--they knew my father--that--I asked all the details--that my father is in Buna, that he is working inside the lager, [that] he was a weak person so he couldn't work outside.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: So I ask them, and towards the end he left with a transport for Gleiwitz.
  • David Boder: Where to?
  • Alexander Gertner: To Gleiwitz. Gleiwitz [number] one it was called.
  • David Boder: What was that?
  • Alexander Gertner: It was also a lager.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: So I...every Sunday I used to wait for the car. They used to transport the food to Buna. From Auschwitz they used to send the food to Buna. It was approximately thirty kilometers from us. But to meet someone there so I could send a letter with him, that was impossible. And so in [from] that Buna also went [people] with the transport in which we marched. There were there [people from] Buna, Birkenau, all of Birkenau, and all the surrounding lagers around Auschwitz.
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: And then we marched, approximately thirty thousand people, two nights and two...
  • David Boder: Thirty thousand people?
  • Alexander Gertner: Thirty thousand people. A...a line [file] of a few kilometers [long]. When...when the sentries wanted to give some sort of a signal, from one end to the others, they would fire in the air. They already had made up signals, one shot, etc. They could not call each other in any other way.
  • David Boder: How could you know how many there were [?]?
  • Alexander Gertner: So big was the...only toward the end we found out how many people were marching together.
  • David Boder: Nu. So where did you go [?]?
  • Alexander Gertner: We marched. Only at night could we march, because in the daytime they were afraid, because there could be air-raids.
  • David Boder: So. [Words not clear].
  • Alexander Gertner: Yes. We [?]...
  • David Boder: So what were you doing during the day?
  • Alexander Gertner: During the day we sat in the snow, sometimes by peasants. We sat in yards [word may also mean farms], in the barns, wherever...wherever we could.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: In front of us marched the women. And very...and very many women remained behind who couldn't march.
  • David Boder: And?
  • Alexander Gertner: These were shot. And all the people who marched in the column, if one said, 'I can't march,' or broke formation to the left or to the right...
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: ...he shot you immediately.
  • David Boder: Did you yourself see that?
  • Alexander Gertner: I saw it myself, how near me people were shot. And while going forward we already saw from the people ahead, from the people who were walking ahead of us, many people who had been shot. And so...
  • David Boder: On the sides [of the road].
  • Alexander Gertner: On the side of the road. Always many, many...clouds of people. And so we marched till Breslau. We made ninety kilometers [about 55 miles] in two nights.
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: And in Breslau we already were not able to march. I already said...I was there with a comrade. We were marching together. So I said, 'If that keeps on much longer, so I...' [words not clear]. On the second night I said to him, 'I can't any more.' I already wanted to fall behind, and what will do [happen]. So he said...he heard me moaning [?], so he said to me, 'Wait a little. We are already arriving...we are already at...we will stop marching.' And so we came in the morning. We arrived very early. At four o'clock we arrived in Breslau. And there we see near a station black smoke. We come closer. We find two trains standing there, two large trains. Two trains...
  • David Boder: One moment. Railroad trains?
  • Alexander Gertner: Railroad trains, and...
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: And so Jews are saying one to another, 'There must be two trains. One is going to Buchenwald. One is going to Grossrosen.'
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: So I said to him, 'It is best to be in the train to Buchenwald. There already...' [words not clear]. How do we know? We don't know anything. And so we understood that maybe the first train goes to Buchenwald, because Buchenwald was better known.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: So we started pushing to be loaded on the first train. And so from all sides people dragged, dragged from all sides. There were terribly many people, around thirty thousand people. [Words not clear.] When we were loaded....We were taken eighty-five, ninety people in open wagons [RR-cars]. They were half...half wagons [flatcars or gondolas]. Such wagons for lumber...
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: ....they were [?]. It was terribly cold then.
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: We were embarked there, and so I and another few, we were there together, and we don't know where we are traveling to, but we are traveling. It was frightfully cold. We traveled for one night. And then during that night my finger froze off, the thumb, and so the cold at that time was terrible. We didn't have anything to eat. And so we rode for approximately thirty-six hours.
  • David Boder: Hm. Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: Then we arrived in Grossrosen.
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Alexander Gertner: Arriving in Grossrosen, we were unloaded from the wagons, and we march on foot for quite a while.
  • David Boder: A bit louder.
  • Alexander Gertner: We...we...we walk for quite a while. And we walked up on a ...we see we are walking up kind of a hill. There was a big hill. The lager was on a hill.
  • David Boder: Oh, so you did not go to Buchenwald?
  • Alexander Gertner: No, it happened that we didn't go to Buchenwald.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: Because we wanted to go to Buchenwald we went to Grossrosen.
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: Grossrosen was a dreadful lager. We arrived up there. The old lager was so...the old lager this was [words not clear]. A lot of people had arrived, so they...so they built new barracks on top of the hill. It was made with...with...with barbed wires around. New barracks were built. There were dreadful morasses and slush. There...we were brought there to the top. There was not yet any water supply [pipes]. We were pushed in there together with about twelve hundred people into one barrack.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: In there it was frightfully dirty...
  • David Boder: Grossrosen is near what city?
  • Alexander Gertner: This was in deep Germany, as it was called. The Seven Mountains [incorrect].
  • David Boder: In the Thueringer Mountains?
  • Alexander Gertner: In the Thueringer Mountains [also incorrect].
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: I am not so familiar with Germany [?].
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: And so...
  • David Boder: Near what large German city is it?
  • Alexander Gertner: I don't know where about it is.
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: And so we were there in Gross-...we were loca-...there were terribly many people. We were disembarked to be distributed. We were terribly many people. They yelled for us to form a line. People were hungry, and one didn't know what to do. Later, after we had stayed there overnight in that block, twelve hundred people, in the morning we were again told to get up, early around two [a.m.], to fetch something to eat. At that time there was brought something like water made out of grits [?]. It looked like water from the grits [word mispronouced].
  • David Boder: What is grits?
  • Alexander Gertner: Well...
  • David Boder: Groats?
  • Alexander Gertner: Groats, yes.
  • David Boder: Yes. Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: And this...this was called the dinner, tomorrow's dinner for the next day. This was at two o'clock at night. Why did they do it this way? Because there had arrived so many people, so many new people, that they couldn't...
  • David Boder: And so...
  • Alexander Gertner: There were no eating utensils at all. We had brought some with us from Auschwitz, these cans, the empty cans from canned food. We had been given some canned food [there], so we kept the cans, and now we were given the soup in them, dirty cans. And so we were dead hungry, and as long as we had something to eat [we ate]. We ate snow. That snow was our water, the snow.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: With snow we washed. Snow we drank. Everything. And so in this...there I was for a few days. There we were led from one barrack to another, because every day there were arriving new people. Everybody was pushed [crowded] together. New people were arriving, because everywhere...the Russians were pushing from one side and the Americans...
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: So from all the lagers they brought them to Grossrosen.
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: And [some] to Buchenwald. Mostly to Grossrosen and [a blank on the recording wire]...got work, those who were skilled workers. Again people with skills, so I reported as...with the skilled people. I was also in carpentry, and we were...we were taken, approximately three hundred people, and we were taken to a separate block. Various locksmiths, carpenters, and various skilled people. There in that block it was also very dreadful, because we were...we were given little food. We couldn't go out. We were told we are leaving any moment. We didn't know, because we were told we will be leaving. We were happy that we would be leaving.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: Whether everybody was going, we did not know anything. Everybody still remained. Later in a few days comes one...a superior group leader takes us over. We were written down [registered] fifteen times. We were...we were told, 'If you won't know the trade well, then you will be killed for that...'
  • David Boder: What?
  • Alexander Gertner: Who had reported [as a tradesman], you understand? The trade that we had reported, if we won't know it well...
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: We were registered. We were led out of the lager. Everyone is given a liter of soup. This was the food to take along [for the road]. And we are led out. On the street one comes with a gun [?], a superior group leader, 'Whoever leaves the formation will be immediately shot.'
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: There were sentries. There were sentries around. We march in snow, in mud. It was a dreadful road. We don't know where we are going. We are marching for approximately thirty kilometers, from Grossrosen...
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: And so we thank God that we are leaving Grossrosen. We don't know yet where we are going--as long as we are leaving Grossrosen. We march and we march. We are already too tired. We can't march any more. And so we see there, in the distance on a hill, we see there a lager, a small camp.
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: So we believe maybe we are going to this lager. We are coming closer and closer. We see we are really going into this lager. We enter the lager. [Near the end of this spool the voice is very faint.] At the gate in front of the lager, at the gate there steps forward the man [?] who brought the report [list], the lager commandant. There was in Grossrosen...there came the lager elder. He, too, was a prisoner...
  • David Boder: [In English:] August the 26th, 1946, at about ten o'clock in the evening. We continue, the third spool with Mr. Gertner.
  • David Boder: [In Yiddish:] And so you came out...
  • Alexander Gertner: We...we came to the Heim, to the camp Bolkenhain [Home in the Clouds]. That camp was called Bolkenhain. So there comes out the lager...the lager elder and tells us, 'Yes, you should know'...asks us where...where we are from...well, in which camp we had been before. We told him we were in Auschwitz and we were finally in Grossrosen. 'Yes, you were in Auschwitz. Good. But it happens that here is not Auschwitz. Here you are [word not clear]. Here I will teach you!'
  • David Boder: What?
  • Alexander Gertner: Good. He counts us. He carries such a cudgel in his hand. Nu, he counts us and leads us into the lager. In the lager he threw us into a room, a narrow one, such a room. Thus all the three hundred people...we were...one narrow...we couldn't turn around, not to the right, not to the left. 'Turn in everything.' What one has with us. Good. Everything turned in. One...
  • David Boder: What did you have?
  • Alexander Gertner: A shaving apparatus so a...to shave. One had various things. One had a...
  • David Boder: Now as long as you talk about it, about shaving, how often did one shave? How did one go to work? Or did one grow a beard?
  • Alexander Gertner: No. One had to be shaved. One had to shave. Every week one shaved himself once.
  • David Boder: Once a week one shaved.
  • Alexander Gertner: Yes, and...
  • David Boder: And who did the shaving?
  • Alexander Gertner: One another.
  • David Boder: One another.
  • Alexander Gertner: If one didn't [couldn't] shave, he gave away the bread for a shave. There was...officially there was a...a barrack barber.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: But this block barber was also a dog, also one of the prisoners. He wanted to get a cigarette for a shave.
  • David Boder: Nu.
  • Alexander Gertner: He wanted some...
  • David Boder: Were you permitted to keep...were you permitted to keep razors?
  • Alexander Gertner: Yes, it was permitted [possible] to keep razors for shaving, but on the sly. It wasn't permitted to keep any. Only the barrack barber had to do the shaving, but...but who could wait? There were in one barrack a few hundred people. Who could wait for the block barber? All on one Sunday, one Sunday...
  • David Boder: Did one have soap?
  • Alexander Gertner: We had. We received every month or every two months one piece of soap, but it was...this soap was just stone, only stone, a piece of stone.
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: And so we have...
  • David Boder: And the hair?
  • Alexander Gertner: And the hair had to be cut, cut the same as shaved. Well, not smooth, but only every week one cut the hair. Whoever went to work not shaven or without a haircut, he...he caught a terrible beating.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: And so when we entered this camp Bolkenhain, we were...there we were told to hand over everything. And then we started, a few people at a time...this was a small camp. There was no bath hall. There was only a bathtub [tank] to wash, such a sort made of cement. And we were told to go in a few people at a time. We washed up. There was a barber. He cut off everybody's hair, and one was asked, 'Where are you from? Do you have any gold on you?' The prisoners were told to search among themselves. They should hand over everything. All they wanted was to get something.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: Good. We bathed a few people at a time. It was already about the middle of the night, because it went very slowly, because only...only two, three people went in at one time, because there was only one bathtub.
  • David Boder: Only one bathtub?
  • Alexander Gertner: So there were two holes made out of cement. So there water was poured in.
  • David Boder: Not...
  • Alexander Gertner: Not showers.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: There were no showers. No showers were there. And so...
  • David Boder: So one went in the same water with the...
  • Alexander Gertner: The same as the other, yes. Thousands. Everyone went in the same water. And after washing--and this lasted till approximately two o'clock at night--we were led into a block there. There was straw strewn out, straw. Five people were given one...one...one blanked. We arranged ourselves in a row, in fives, one close to the other. One blanket was given to every five people. Finished.
  • David Boder: How can people cover themselves?
  • Alexander Gertner: That is how we had to cover ourselves, five people with one blanket. Squeezed together exactly like herring.
  • David Boder: The blanket was put lengthwise?
  • Alexander Gertner: Lengthwise, yes.
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: In the morning we were again registered. Someone came, wrote down exactly from where we are, from which lager, what number one has. We already had the third number. In every lager one was given a new prison number. And when this was over [a short blank in the wire]...and so we were...
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: In the morning all the particulars were taken down. We were received, and he said, 'Here you will be taught!' This camp elder was a terribly evil man. There exists no worse. We were recieved. On the next day...
  • David Boder: When was that approximately?
  • Alexander Gertner: That was approximately four weeks...approximately in February--January, February. Approximately in the middle of February.
  • David Boder: In '45?
  • Alexander Gertner: Yes, in '45.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: At the end, oh, in [word not clear].
  • David Boder: That was shortly [?] before the liberation?
  • Alexander Gertner: Yes.
  • David Boder: Yes, nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: Yes, approximately at the end of...so at the beginning of February, because it was Yier [ the name of the Jewish month]. And then when we had been there a few days, there all day long we had to make [punitive] sports. We had to do...run, genuflexions, run again. And the beatings if one did there something [?]. The camp there was dreadful. Lice were crawling all over.
  • David Boder: Lice?
  • Alexander Gertner: Lice. When we came we were clean. We came from Auschwitz, and there it was clean [at certain times and in certain sections--DPB]. Auschwitz was terrible, but besides that, one thing was good, that it was clean in Auschwitz. If one louse was found on someone, the whole block was disinfected.
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: And there in Camp Bolkenhain it was terribly dirty.
  • David Boder: Now how do you explain that. The Americans were coming from one side and the Russians from the other side.
  • Alexander Gertner: Yes.
  • David Boder: It was necessary to evacuate.
  • Alexander Gertner: Yes.
  • David Boder: And yet the SS men were so mean. Did they think that they were going to win the war?
  • Alexander Gertner: No, they didn't think that they would win. They simply wanted to exterminate. They had received an order to move on and to endure, whoever can't march should be shot.
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: Did they need us for anything? They wanted to exterminate.
  • David Boder: Hm. And so there were lice in that lager.
  • Alexander Gertner: Yes. And so we were...
  • David Boder: What was the name of that lager?
  • Alexander Gertner: Bolkenhain.
  • David Boder: Bolkenhain.
  • Alexander Gertner: Yes. And after we had spent there a few days we began working. What did we do? We dug pits [words not clear]...nearby in the forest [?].
  • David Boder: Pits?
  • Alexander Gertner: Pits. Long pits.
  • David Boder: What for?
  • Alexander Gertner: What do you mean, what for? At first we didn't know, but later we found out. Everyone was told. We made heavy, deep [?] pits. And we brought wood from the forest. We had to cut wood. We put it around on the sides. Lime was put all around so...lime on top so it shouldn't be seen what...what it was for [?].
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: We dug pits. What for? We were there. In that lager the food was especially terrible. There was very little food, and the beatings became worse every day. There were Jewish lager elders, too. And they, too, beat [us] terribly.
  • David Boder: Who?
  • Alexander Gertner: Polish Jews.
  • David Boder: Capos?
  • Alexander Gertner: Capos.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: Such block leaders. They have...who...whoever was a block leader there, he had to be a...a murderer!
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: And so...
  • David Boder: What did they beat you with? With sticks or what?
  • Alexander Gertner: With anything they could lay their hands on. They beat with sticks and with stones, with whatever there was. There was not one set thing [procedure]. If someone was reported...if he [the capo] himself did the beating, it was gold [fortunate], because if he had reported to the lager leader, the prisoner would catch twenty-five with the cudgel. This one could not survive. For the smallest trifle one was given twenty-five with a stick. In Auschwitz it happened, too. But in Auschwitz not...not for every trifle. For instance, if one brought something into the lager, some food or anything, if he was caught with tobacco...for instance, I, too, was caught once. I was lucky that I wasn't beaten, because...because the SS man was one who wanted to keep the tobacco for himself, so he didn't want to report me. So he didn't report. If not, I would also have caught twenty-five.
  • David Boder: You don't smoke, so for what did you bring in tobacco?
  • Alexander Gertner: For somebody else.
  • David Boder: Huh.
  • Alexander Gertner: The...the commandant...the overseer told me to bring in the tobacco for him so he could have tobacco. Nu, so what could one say? If I tell him that I won't do it he will beat me.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: So in this lager it was even more terrible. For every small trifle one was beaten, twenty-five. There was someone on whom a pencil was found, or some such thing that one was not supposed to have. He immediately caught twenty-five with the stick.
  • David Boder: It was not permitted to have a pencil?
  • Alexander Gertner: Oh! A pencil was the worst.
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: And so we were there. We dug the pits. We didn't know what for. We were in this lager two weeks, and...and every day we heard shooting. We heard shooting with heavy cannon [words not clear]...because the front was constantly approaching.
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: [Note: Here his speech becomes very animated, and the clarity of the recording suffers a great deal.--DPB.] And so [words not clear]...the lager leader is very busy. No one knows why. Then they picked...a few days earlier yet a few people had been picked, and it was said they were called the special detail.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: What this special detail was for, nobody knew. They were given an extra piece of bread. And so quite later we found out what this special detail was for, this Sonder-Kommando. There was a sick-room, because all the sick were in there. And those sick were [killed] with injections. There was no gas chamber. It was only small lager, so they were killed with injections.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: They were given such injection as, and they were thrown into these pits. And the Sonder-Kommando had to drag them, these dead. For this they were given an extra peice of bread so they shouldn't tell, and they should...and they should have courage [strength] to go after their job. For this the pits had been dug, because they...they wanted to leave [to evacuate the camp], so they should not have to drag themselves with the sick. So they...they would [not] have to shoot the sick later on the road. So they did it right in there. And so we see how the corpses are dragged and dragged. It was done so fast. They were dragged in a hurry, because...because there had come strong orders that we have to leave. And so we had no time to distribute the dinner. The dinner remained standing there--I still remember--in the caldrons. There were metal caldrons. It remained standing, because everything had to be done fast. The lager commandant came in with the cudgel. 'Out immediately,' he says, 'or I'll shoot you all down,' he said.
  • David Boder: Did the lager elder have a revolver?
  • Alexander Gertner: The commandant, the lager commandant.
  • David Boder: Yes, nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: The lager elder did not have a gun, because he was a prisoner, too.
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: And so we had to get outside fast. And we started marching. Marching. We don't know where. Already earlier carts had been prepared, because they knew that we are going to leave. So various...all things from the camp we took along. Various things, boxes with everything, they wanted to take along. They could bear it. We had to drag them.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: We bega-...
  • David Boder: Carts with...
  • Alexander Gertner: Carts.
  • David Boder: Not automobiles?
  • Alexander Gertner: No. Carts.
  • David Boder: With horses?
  • Alexander Gertner: No! We were the horses [chuckles].
  • David Boder: Oh!
  • Alexander Gertner: Carts loaded up with things, with various boxes, with anything they liked from the camp. Rags...and a cart detail was formed. Everybody assigned. To this cart twenty men, to this cart ten men. This was the worst.
  • David Boder: What kind of vehicles were these?
  • Alexander Gertner: Carts. Such...
  • David Boder: They were not [word not clear]?
  • Alexander Gertner: No. Simple carts.
  • David Boder: Where did they get them [?]?
  • Alexander Gertner: These peasant carts, such simple, simple carts.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: And it was...and it was loaded with many things, nailed together with boards. And we had to drag...
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: ...these carts. And this was the worst, dragging these carts. We couldn't drag. We were weak. Drag them up hills on the road. And they beat. The cart detail always remained behind.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: The others walked on foot. It was easier for them to walk. The others were always rotated. Here came the lager commandant to the back. But the lager elder did not like it. If he saw that the cart drags behind and the others already are in front, he began to beat with the cudgel so that...beat to death. I was also once at the cart. I was always on the cart detail. I was mostly on the cart detail, because they saw such a tall man, so they thought that he was strong.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: At night I used to drag myself away. Since I was not seen, I used to drag myself away, used to run to the front, so as not to be on the cart detail. Once there behind...by the carts when we had stopped a little, the SS were eating. We were not given anything, but they were eating the dinner there. So one SS man threw down the bread rinds, the burnt [crusts] of the bread. He threw it away.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: So we went to pick them up. We were so hungry. There was one...I saw others were picking them up, so I also ran to pick them up. And there was a lager-...still from Bolkenhain, a lager elder, a...a block leader, a Jew. He was still mad at me. He says, 'I am going to tell on you to the lager-...to the lager elder. You were taking bread.' The lager elder comes over, so he says, 'He took bread from the sentries.' He says, 'Yes?' And he begins cudgeling me. He beat me so that I was so blue, blue all over, swollen all over [?].
  • David Boder: Did he beat you on the face with the cudgel?
  • Alexander Gertner: With the cudgel on the face. He didn't even look. On the face [?]. On the face, everywhere. 'I'll beat you here. Here you will drop.' He says, 'Here I beat you. Here you shall drop. Why did you [take] bread?' I say, 'No, Herr lager elder, I got bread.' I still had on me the piece of bread that we took along from the lager. 'Yes, you did take.' He beats me up so much that I thought [?] now I am finished [Footnote: It is characteristic that all through these interviews it appears that the Nazis could not bring themselves to use the verb steal in connection with the word bread. Even in a case of execution of several prisoners who took bread from the kitchen during an air-raid alarm, the term Brot nehmen [take bread] was used and not Brot stehlen [steal bread]. --DPB.].
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: I was bleeding all over [?]. And so I didn't know what to do. The snow...I took snow. It burned me very much. I put it on my face.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: I cooled it, and keep going. We have to keep running. And here I am by the carts. It was...What shall I do? I can't push. And so one sees that. He says, 'You, your face is swollen. You must get out [?].'
  • David Boder: Who said [?]?
  • Alexander Gertner: Another one.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: So he tells me, 'You go to the front. Don't go [here] any more. See that you get to the front, not among the carts, because here you will be beaten to death.' And so I have...with all my strength I dragged myself to the front. And I came to the front [of the column]. At the front there...so we came...till late at night. This was after marching for two days. Late at night we arrived in a lager, Hirshberg.
  • David Boder: Hm. Hirshberg?
  • Alexander Gertner: Hirshberg, that was the name of it. We come into the lager. There were already other prisoners. We were new arrivals. They were also prepared to leave, and so we were added. We entered at night. We were put into a block. And there...they were clean in that lager. We arrived lousy [words not clear]. And the next day they began it with the lice [?], and they started to beat us for having brought in the lice.
  • David Boder: Who? Who did that [?]?
  • Alexander Gertner: Those old-timers. Those old-timers. Those others from...the other capos from among the old-timers, from among those who had already been in Hirshberg. The lager commandant ran in. They made [punitive] sports with us. All day and night we had to run...
  • David Boder: What does it mean, they made sports?
  • Alexander Gertner: Knee-bending, standing on the head [?], and running around the walk [?] on foot [?] fast, make various gymnastics, and lying [?].
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: If one couldn't walk, with his boot he trampled him.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: And all day we had to sit in the...in the block, and we had to take off the lice and [throw them] in the basins. We had such basins with water, and we had to throw them into the water. So many were there. Imagine how many there were. In this camp it was terrible. We had brought along very many from Bolkenhain still, and so there...
  • David Boder: What did you bring along?
  • Alexander Gertner: Brought along these lice.
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: And so in that lager we remained for approximately ten days, and then we had to leave together with that lager, together with the older...
  • David Boder: Together with all the others?
  • Alexander Gertner: Together with all the others. We left on foot. All of us went on foot. From there, too, we took along carts. We took along all the carts, everything they could. They wanted to take along everything so it should not remain for the Russians, for the Ger-...for the Americans.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: We took it all [?]. And then we marched till...till Waldheim. Waldheim. From there we marched for approximately a day. We did not get any food, only that which we still got in Hirshberg, a little soup. It was said that we will get food before we will be loaded on the [rr-]wagons. It was said we shall be entrained. Food for the journey, that is, rations [will be given] in the [rr-] wagons. This camp commandant, he was the worst, such a...a...a murderer that can only exist...I had already seen SS men, but he was the most terrible.
  • David Boder: And he went along?
  • Alexander Gertner: He went. He always, always went along. From Bolkenhain yet, from Hirshberg. He had brought us from Grossrosen to Bolkenhain. From Bolkenhain he again went with us.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: And so we came to Waldheim. We entered. It was a small lager, a tiny lager. We were put into the wash hall. There we stayed overnight. There were no barracks. There was only one barrack. We were not...we were pushed in there one against the other. One trampled on the other. We were...there were dreadful morasses there, and there we already see that the [rr-] wagons are already waiting. Well, we already thank God that we will at least be on [rr-] wagons. Possibly something will happen. And so we were entrained, twelve hundred people.
  • David Boder: Yes. How many to each wagon?
  • Alexander Gertner: Eighty-five, ninety people. Open wagons, half-wagons.
  • David Boder: Oh, half-wagons.
  • Alexander Gertner: Half-wagons. It was snowing, cold. It was frightfully cold. And so we are waiting to be given some food. Now they close the wagons. No food is given, nothing. It is too early [?]. We are traveling. Cold. Everybody had a rag. And here...that...that...that lager elder that I told you about from Bolkenhain, he was terrible, a...a...a murderer. He knew that we are going on a long journey...
  • David Boder: Where to?
  • Alexander Gertner: To Buchenwald, and he did not want to come along. He remained in Waldheim.
  • David Boder: He knew that you are going to Buchenwald?
  • Alexander Gertner: Yes, he knew. He must have found out. He remained in that Waldheim, in that small lager.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: And he...he certainly knew that we are going on such a long trip, so he wanted to make sure that we are all going to go kaput [to perish] on the way. So he ordered, for instance...we had...one two pairs of pants. One had two shirts, two jackets. We were not restrained from taking with us anything we could. We should take it along so it should not remain for the Russians.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: You understand?
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: So he [the lager elder] ordered that any clothes that one had double should be taken away. And during snow! Everyone had to undress and be searched. He wanted to make sure that we shouldn't go [word not clear].
  • David Boder: That one should what? One shouldn't...
  • Alexander Gertner: That we shouldn't enter the wagons with double clothing. That we should freeze [to death] in the wagons.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: And it really was so! We were entrained, and we were...and we entered the wagons naked, nearly naked, with the thin trousers, no...no overcoat, in the snow. Food we did not get. And so in these wagons we traveled for six days and six nights without food. If you want to, don't believe me!
  • David Boder: Without...
  • Alexander Gertner: I myself cannot...I myself can't believe that I have endured it! In every wagon there were every morning from ten to fifteen dead. For instance, we asked one another, 'How many dead have you? And how many dead have you?
  • David Boder: Did you take them out?
  • Alexander Gertner: No. We slept on the dead. We lay on top of the dead. One took off the shoes from the dead if he had other, worn out shoes. We sat on top of the dead like on a [word not clear], simply sat [on top of them]. We slept [on top of them] and everything, so high...
  • David Boder: Now tell me. Did the dead at first...did the starved ones become sick or did they simply...
  • Alexander Gertner: Simply have gone out from hunger, plainly from hunger.
  • David Boder: Have gone out?
  • Alexander Gertner: Have gone out from hunger by day and by night. There were Greeks. Because they were so...the Greeks were more terrible. They wanted to commit a dreadful deed. We didn't permit them. They wanted to cut off flesh from...from the dead and roast it...
  • David Boder: And eat it?
  • Alexander Gertner: And eat it, simply eat it. They asked if anybody has matches.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: They had a piece of [wooden] board. But we said, 'I will die together with everybody and shall not eat human flesh.'
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: We did not permit them to do it.
  • David Boder: What did you do about it? Did it happen that someone did eat human flesh?
  • Alexander Gertner: It was eaten in several wagons. It was eaten.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: And then...and so we see that we are dying out.
  • David Boder: What do you mean by Greeks? Greek Jews?
  • Alexander Gertner: Greeks, non-Jews. [There were] Jews and gentiles mixed together.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: Greeks, they were very terrible, those Greeks. And then...
  • David Boder: Wait a moment. [Adjusts the instrument].
  • Alexander Gertner: Yes.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: And so for six days we are traveling. Why did the journey last so long? Because the train did not have the right of way. On every station [siding] it had to wait for days and nights. And here we see the Germans are promenading. We are stationed under a bridge. On top the Germans are promenading with loaves of bread under their arms. We beg for food. 'Hunger...hunger...' And they stand with the breads under their arms, and they smile, and they don't throw a piece of bread. We kept...
  • David Boder: You were begging?
  • Alexander Gertner: Yes, from them. We kept the mouth open so that it should snow in. And from the blanket...
  • David Boder: These were open wagons?
  • Alexander Gertner: Open wagons.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: And so we...the snow...I was lucky, and maybe because of that I remained alive, because on the way I had found a small...approximately half a liter of wheat. You know what wheat is.
  • David Boder: Grain.
  • Alexander Gertner: Grain, yes.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: And that I hid in my pockets, and every day a little by little. And I hid myself, and I took one or two at a time [?].
  • David Boder: So in these six days you weren't given anything to eat?
  • Alexander Gertner: Absolutely no food. I ate the wheat. And this I kept hidden, and every now and then I would take a kernel. I knew that the wheat [?]...
  • David Boder: Nobody saw that you had it?
  • Alexander Gertner: No, they didn't see. We bent to the side. Everybody had something, and whoever did not died. For instance, there were capos and block elders also in these same wagons. They had bread. They didn't want to share with others. They threw the blankets over themselves and ate, and did not give to others. People were dying. And so we traveled six days and nights; we rode. And so we waited on stations and rode. We got off. And so, excuse me, there all of a sudden I notice [?] the shoes. I see the shoes. The feet are swollen like this.
  • David Boder: Your feet?
  • Alexander Gertner: My feet, everybody's, all [of us]. What is this? Swollen [so] we can't take off our shoes. Impossible. And so we get off in Buchenwald. We arrive in Buchenwald, after six days and six nights. So I got off. Out of twelve hundred people, four hundred. That means a hundred [?] per cent, all the eight hundred people, remained dead in the wagons. And the four hundred, these...we were so that any moment they might die. In fives...we supported each other in fives, and we were led into a bath hall. To add to our troubles we were led into a hot shower, and on the frozen feet hot water. They became swollen, blue. Here we could not stand on our feet. We all had feet like this, and blue. And we didn't know what to do. Everybody keeps crying. He screams, 'The feet hurt.' Thanks, for giving us a little black coffee.
  • David Boder: Where was that?
  • Alexander Gertner: In Buchenwald.
  • David Boder: Oh! You are already in Buchenwald.
  • Alexander Gertner: Yes.
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: That means we were given some black coffee, and we were left standing in the bath hall on the cement floor. We did [bowel movements, possibly] there one on top of the other. We didn't know. On the way everyone...
  • David Boder: What does it mean, it was done there?
  • Alexander Gertner: The necessary things.
  • David Boder: [Words not clear.]
  • Alexander Gertner: [Words not clear.]
  • David Boder: [Not clear; they speak simultaneously.]
  • Alexander Gertner: Yes. We didn't know what to do. And so on the next day we were taken. Those who were very terribly...who absolutely could not stand on his feet, who had legs swollen like this, he was put on a cart and taken to the hospital. Me...me they wouldn't take at all.
  • David Boder: What was done with them?
  • Alexander Gertner: We were...They were taken to the hospital. First, that was the first good thing.
  • David Boder: And the...and that commandant from that...
  • Alexander Gertner: He disappeared. He came with us till Buchenwald, and there he disappeared.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: Till Buchenwald...
  • David Boder: And you don't know what happened to him?
  • Alexander Gertner: No, I don't know.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: And then when we came to Buchen-...to the infirmary...and so they didn't want me. They said, 'You can walk.' One there said, a prisoner, also a capo...there were the camp militia. In Buchenwald there was a camp militia. It was a political lager [there were allegedly a large number of German, gentile communists who had become influential in the run of the camp--DPB.]
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: And so, 'You can walk.' I said, 'No, I absolutely can't. Kill me, I can't.' I really couldn't. Legs like this.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: And there [words not clear]. I, too, was taken and driven to the infirmary. In the infirmary we were put on such plank-beds. There were three-tiered plank beds, such wide ones with straw spread on [them]. These were like this. These 'beautiful' stories you certainly have heard before.
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: There the SS men and lager commandant saw that the field [battle] is coming closer, very close, so they went away from the lager. The SS lived in barracks near the camp. They went away from the camp, and they went to the city, to Weimar. Weimar was the city. He was in contact...the camp commandant was in telephone contact with the lager elder, also a prisoner. The lager elder was a [word not clear; sound like dog]. So he wanted to be good. Blocks...a day before, on the 10th of April, Americans came in airplanes. They came every day. They dropped bread and a note that tomorrow they were coming. [I saw them drop it.--BW.]
  • David Boder: A bread?
  • Alexander Gertner: A bread, a white bread was dropped into the lager, and they also dropped a note that tomorrow they are coming.
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: And here people were being grabbed to go on a transport. People hid themselves in the [word not clear] in various places, wherever one could.
  • David Boder: So the Jews were hiding in the latrines.
  • Alexander Gertner: Yes, they hid in the latrines, wherever they could, only not to present themselves for transport.
  • David Boder: What does it mean, present themselves? Did the others [word not clear]?
  • Alexander Gertner: One was hiding wherever one could. It is impossible to relate.
  • David Boder: Well. Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: And on...he was in contact, the lager commandant, with the lager elder. He said...It was so. It had been made up that on the 11th in the morning all should leave, every single one, from Buchenwald.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: Should leave the lager. So the lager commandant asked the lager elder on the telephone whether he already had everybody...on the 11th in the morning, whether he already had sent away all the prisoners. So he answered, 'Yes, Herr lager commandant, everything is settled.' So he relied on him. And in the meanwhile he did not do so. In the meantime...there were air-raids [words not clear]. We see already the tanks are arriving, and so on. And so that was the lucky thing that [due to which] we remained alive, because the camp commandant...[correction] lager elder had told a lie, that we had already been led away, that we are not here any more. And so at two o'clock in the afternoon, Wednesday on the 11th of April, the Americans have...I was then in the infirmary. We in the infirmary were very frightened. We were saying, 'Oy, oy, we are being taken away. Oy, oy, we are being taken away.' One said, 'I am not going. Let them shoot me here.' Another said, 'I am going.' We...
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: We were in fear day and night [that] they are taking us away. And here we see...we hear shooting. Day and night we...
  • David Boder: Whom? And who was shooting?
  • Alexander Gertner: The Americans who were arriving.
  • David Boder: Hm. Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: And so they arrived. And then...I couldn't stand on my feet, but with much joy [?]...I wanted to see what is going on. So I walked over to the window. With two canes under my arms I walked over to the window to see what is going on there. One can't see anything, only smoke near, around the lager. And the guards are running away, the guards who were around the lager in the towers. [The following section appears in places practically incoherent. This is due to his emotional state, and to imperfections in the equipment.]
  • David Boder: SS men?
  • Alexander Gertner: The SS. They surrendered. They stood there shooting at one another [?]. Here we see they are already running away, everybody. They have run away. And here are arriving...we already see tanks arriving, tanks shooting fire. We see fire, just fire, and here we see the SS running. They are running away, one after the other. And here we already see a white flag in the lager. And already they shout, 'It is liberated [the camp].' There are no Americans yet. All at once when the sentries had left...there were many Russians in camp. These...
  • David Boder: Russians?
  • Alexander Gertner: Russians, yes, prison-...also prisoners.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: They went and caught any SS man they could. They caught, and they took away from them their guns. All of a sudden in comes to us, to the hospital a Russian with a gun on his shoulder. We jump on him, everybody. We kiss him. And he is armed. We did not know yet that we were liberated. An hour later in comes an American. Of course [?], we...we...we cried. Everybody cried for joy. We didn't know what...we couldn't believe ourselves that we are liberated.
  • David Boder: Yes [?].
  • Alexander Gertner: Yes. We didn't know. We couldn't believe it. Here we see...we see SS men were brought in. The Russians were searching in the camp and around the camp. They caught yet approximately something like thirty, fourty SS. They brought them into the lager. They pummelled and beat them. They put them into the bunker.
  • David Boder: The SS [?]?
  • Alexander Gertner: Yes. Into the bunker, and so...
  • David Boder: Arrested.
  • Alexander Gertner: Yes, arrested. And so on the 11th of April at two o'clock in the afternoon we were liberated. Then the Americans...we already saw tanks. The Americans did a very smart thing. That was our luck. They first liberated the lager and then Weimar.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: In proper order they should have first liberated Weimar. Weimar is ahead of Buchenwald, and then [comes] Buchenwald.
  • Alexander Gertner: But they knew already from other lagers. They had made a mistake with another lager. They knew that when they liberated the town first, the lager...the lager was in the meantime shot [the prisoners were killed].
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: So here they proceeded like this. Buchenwald first. First they liberated Buchenwald and then Weimar.
  • David Boder: And then Weimar?
  • Alexander Gertner: They made a little detour.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: That is how we remained alive, twenty-two thousand people. And all of a sudden we see the...the radios began in the lager. In Buchenwald was such a loudspeaker so that it could be heard in the entire lager.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: There was also one located in every block. A Czech was there at that time. He took over the lager. And he called out in Czech and in all languages that we are liberated. We shouldn't worry about anything. Everything possible will be done. And then, around the late afternoon, we didn't know yet that we are liberated. We couldn't believe ourselves. When the Americans entered they saw people, dead lying around. Hungry, screaming, we hadn't eaten for a few days. Because before the liberation for three days we didn't get any food. Because they didn't give any bread, nothing. And so when they entered, the Americans didn't know what to do. They gave orders to cook at once a pork soup, a fat soup.
  • David Boder: Nu, and then [?]?
  • Alexander Gertner: Yes.
  • David Boder: Where did they get them.
  • Alexander Gertner: There were in the lager prepared pigs for...to be cooked later on.
  • David Boder: Later on, yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: For the SS. A fat soup was cooked, and from that a lot of people died, because they were starved. One had not eaten for a few days, and when a very fat soup was cooked, and we threw ourselves over it--we were hungry--so many got diarrhea, and a cloud [multitude] of people perished, by the hundreds [?]. When they saw it...there had arrived officers...
  • David Boder: For the occupation [?] of Buchenwald [?]?
  • Alexander Gertner: Yes. And so they saw. It was very bad. People are dying already after the liberation. They quickly ordered carloads with...with blood, because there is such...
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: ...such plasmas...
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Alexander Gertner: ...with blood that is given to...to...to sick...
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: For instance, a soldier gets a bullet, so he looses a lot of blood.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: He is given immediately such an...
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: ...injection.
  • David Boder: An injection.
  • Alexander Gertner: An injection. So several wagons were ordered for us. Everybody was given...I received half a liter.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: Plasma. And that brought nearly everybody back to life. We got a little blood. The stomach began to work again. We started to get [word not clear]. We had already some doctors. The Americans behaved right away very well. They gave chocolate to eat, different things. Temporary beds were put in, because they had such chrome [?] cots...
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: ...which could be instantly unfolded [?] and folded up [?]. They didn't have any other kind. And we were taken out from the lager, only the sick from the sick-room, and we were taken in small groups with automobiles. There were the Negroes. They came with the cars, with the...
  • David Boder: The black [colored]...
  • Alexander Gertner: The black with the cars, and we were brought, four to ten [?] people [at a time], to the lager. Thus it too eight days after the liberation.
  • David Boder: Could anybody make himself understood with them?
  • Alexander Gertner: There had arrived a rabbi. Then had arrived [somewhat] later...
  • David Boder: Which rabbi?
  • Alexander Gertner: Rabbi Schechter was there.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: It was he who took us to Switzerland. He...he used to hold services. He also had with him assistants. He used to hold services in Buchenwald. He made speeches [sermons]. He told us to hold on. We should...he sent a transport with children, five hundred, to France, and then us. We were the second transport to...to Switzerland. At first yet to...to Belgium, and then we came to Switzerland. And the third one went to Sweden.
  • David Boder: Speak in this direction [towards the microphone]. Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: And then after the liberation we were taken into the SS barracks.
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: In the SS barrack they began to treat us with care. Everyone was given medicine. And there still very many people died. There was a...a girl from my province [?], from my town [?]. She is in Sweden. She, too, was liberated. Her father died three weeks after the liberation. And she asks me what I know about her father. What should I write to her? I wrote her that I don't know anything. I am a hundred per cent sure that he had died.
  • David Boder: He was with you in Buchenwald?
  • Alexander Gertner: In Buchenwald. He had been liberated. Three weeks after the liberation he died of typhus. With typhus it was bad [?]. After the liberation in Buchenwald typhus had raged, terribly.
  • David Boder: How come?
  • Alexander Gertner: Everybody was...from lice, from the filth, and from not eating, from weak blood, there developed a...
  • David Boder: What kind of typhus? Intestinal typhus or spotted typhus?
  • Alexander Gertner: Spotted typhus.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: Spotted typhus, spotted typhus. And so you think that I didn't have typhus? I was very thin. I weighed forty-eight kilos [about 106 pounds]. Before the war I weighed...
  • David Boder: How much do you weigh now?
  • Alexander Gertner: Now I weigh about seventy-two [159 pounds], seventy-three [161 pounds]. Forty-eight I weighed in the lager, imagine! A meter...a meter, seventy-five [centimeters] in height! Then I didn't think that I was going to survive. Already after the liberation I couldn't eat. I also had diarrhea. But slowly, after receiving the injection, the plasma, I slowly started eating, and we were...I was till...till...till the end of May I was in the infirmary. That means April, May, two months, already after the liberation...
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: ...I spent in the infirmary. I couldn't stand on my feet. Slowly I started to walk. We were [words not clear]...
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: And so we were...later Rabbi Schecter began to make efforts, working to take us away. And then came the UNRRA. The UNRRA registered us, and everyone was questioned what trade...only up to seventeen were taken. Then came the Sister Kassel from Switzerland. They saw that there were no children. She looked for children up to sixteen. So she took us--a little older ones she also took. We were told all of us went [?].
  • David Boder: Sister who?
  • Alexander Gertner: Sister Kassel from Switzerland.
  • David Boder: From [?]...
  • Alexander Gertner: From the Red Cross.
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Alexander Gertner: We were...a transport was made up. Three hundred people were told to come. There came four hundred and fifty. We must thank Rabbi Schecter for saving us, so that nobody should remain in Buchenwald.
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Alexander Gertner: And then all the others, the other hundred and fifty above the three hundred, these were sent to France. They already are all in Palestine. [This, of course, is not entirely correct. By 1946 many of them were still in the shelterhouses of France.--DPB.]
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: Because it was not possible [for them] to enter Switzerland.
  • David Boder: And?
  • Alexander Gertner: And they made different inspections [?]. We were looked over fifty times to Switzerland.
  • David Boder: What do you mean by looked over?
  • Alexander Gertner: Looked over...[defect of wire]...I did look much older...
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: ...but not too old. I had hair...[correction] at that time I had absolutely no hair. I looked like after typhus...
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: ...and very weak. So he says to the doctor--that was an American doctor--he said, 'That boy must have a rest [convalesce].'
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: And he said...he signed [a permit] that I can go. That is how we came to Switzerland, [word not clear].
  • David Boder: And what are you doing now?
  • Alexander Gertner: Now. I have been in Switzerland. I was in a quarantine camp [words not clear] four weeks, and there we also suffered hunger for a short time.
  • David Boder: In the quarantine camp?
  • Alexander Gertner: Yes. We came to stealing a potatoe. We didn't have anything to eat. And then we came...we were...the Jewish Community took us over. We were taken to a Hachshara. You know, of course, what Hachshara.is? Preparation for Palestine. Hachshara...
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: And everybody was assigned, those who wanted to go to Palestine. I was eight months in the Hachshara [words not clear]. Hapoel Hamizrachi [religious farmers]...
  • David Boder: Nu?
  • Alexander Gertner: In the fall [?] and winter [?]. And then when I saw it goes too slow with the certificates [a travel permit to Palestine], when I saw that the prospects are doubtful for going to Palestine, it may take a long time yet, so I thought first to learn a trade and then decide where to go.
  • David Boder: Hm. And where do you learn the trade?
  • Alexander Gertner: Now I am learning at the...
  • David Boder: At the ORT?
  • Alexander Gertner: Now, I started im March to learn cabinet making [furniture carpentry].
  • David Boder: You have here good teachers [?]?
  • Alexander Gertner: Yes.
  • David Boder: Hm. Nu, Gertner, I thank you very much. The report makes [?] a good spool.
  • Alexander Gertner: I must thank you, but I hope you will use them for a good purpose.
  • David Boder: Well, to the best of our ability.
  • Alexander Gertner: Yes.
  • David Boder: And if I should not make full use of it, someone else who can do it better will. We will preserve the spools. And as long as they will be preserved, others will be able to use them.
  • Alexander Gertner: I would like a few more words...
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: My Jewish name is Sholom...
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: And my mother was nee...because at home I was...in case there are some relatives.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Alexander Gertner: My mother was nee Gonz, well, Gonz. Sholom I was called at home.
  • David Boder: Gonz?
  • Alexander Gertner: Gonz.
  • David Boder: Your mother's surname?
  • Alexander Gertner: My mother is Gonz, and my...
  • David Boder: How is it spelled?
  • Alexander Gertner: G-O-N-Z.
  • David Boder: Gonz.
  • Alexander Gertner: Yes. And [word not clear].
  • David Boder: And your father's name is Gertner?
  • Alexander Gertner: Gertner. And so now my name is Gertner, Alexander.
  • David Boder: Your parent always lived in Transylvania [?]?
  • Alexander Gertner: Yes.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Alexander Gertner: Yes. The mother had come [had perished?]....I hoped that the sister is alive, but I don't know...
  • David Boder: You don't know.
  • Alexander Gertner: ...what happened to her. I don't have any relatives.
  • David Boder: You don't have any relatives?
  • Alexander Gertner: No relatives.
  • David Boder: Hm. [In English] This concludes Spool 79...concludes Spool 79 taken by [from] Mr. Gertner at the home for displaced Jews, of a religious nature, in Geneva in March...[correction] in August 26, 1946. An Illinois Institute of Technology recording. And so thank you very much.
  • Alexander Gertner: Thank you [?].
  • Contributors to this text:
  • English Translation : David P. Boder