David P. Boder Interviews Fela Nichthauser; August 1, 1946; Fontenay-aux-Roses, France

  • David Boder: This is Spool No. 15 taken at Boucicaut, France near Paris, August 1, 1946. The interviewee is a young girl, Fela Nichthauser. She is so accustomed having her last name called first, that when I asked her about her first name she replied "Nichthauser," and as her last name she gave "Fela." That apparently comes from being so often on roll call.
  • David Boder: [In German] Tell me, Fela, what is your full name?
  • Fela Nichthauser: What does it mean—a full name?
  • David Boder: Just your name.
  • Fela Nichthauser: Fela Nichthauser.
  • David Boder: And how old are you, Fela?
  • Fela Nichthauser: I am twenty-three years old.
  • David Boder: You are twenty-three years old, and where do you live?
  • Fela Nichthauser: I now live in France.
  • David Boder: Yes, but where do you live at present?
  • Fela Nichthauser: I don't live in the chateau. I live a few houses further away. Not in Chateau Boucicaut, but also in a home of OSE.
  • David Boder: Are there other girls with you?
  • Fela Nichthauser: There are no other girl-deportees living there, but I am an exception because I have my brother in Chateau Boucicaut, and so that we could be together, they arranged that I could live there, although I don't work there. I don't work at the home. I go to school in Paris.
  • David Boder: You are attending school in Paris? What kind of a school is it?
  • Fela Nichthauser: That is a school for dental technicians, also belonging to OSE.
  • David Boder: And you are being trained to become a dental technician. Does the OSE have its own technical school?
  • Fela Nichthauser: Yes, OSE has its own school.
  • David Boder: And how many people study there?
  • Fela Nichthauser: About seventy people. Seventy or seventy-five students.
  • David Boder: And you think that being a dental technician is a good profession for a girl?
  • Fela Nichthauser: I don't know exactly, but I am all alone in the world. I have to decide for myself and I hope if not this, I may later learn something else. I don't know myself.
  • David Boder: Is your brother here?
  • Fela Nichthauser: No, my brother has been sent away for a vacation at the sea.
  • David Boder: And who are the other children?
  • Fela Nichthauser: They are mostly Buchenwald children. There are also a few French children who were not deported.
  • David Boder: And how many girls are there?
  • Fela Nichthauser: Eleven girls. One is a deportee; the others had their parents here [she apparently refers to French-Jewish children who were orphaned as a consequence of deportation of their parents by the Nazis].
  • David Boder: Tell me Fela, you are now twenty-three years old. Where were you born?
  • Fela Nichthauser: I was born in Poland in the city of Wadowice.
  • David Boder: In Wadowice. Now tell me what happened there when the Germans first arrived?
  • Fela Nichthauser: In the year of 1939, when the war started, we like all people ran away. We had our own horses and our own carriages; and our whole family—not exactly the whole family, but my mother, and father, two brothers and I,—we ran away, far away. Beyond Sandomierz.
  • David Boder: What was your father's occupation?
  • Fela Nichthauser: He was a poultry dealer. He was a poultry dealer and a fish merchant.
  • David Boder: In the city?
  • Fela Nichthauser: In the city. On a large scale.
  • David Boder: Was that wholesale? Did he sell to other merchants?
  • Fela Nichthauser: Yes.
  • David Boder: What for did he have the horses and wagons?
  • Fela Nichthauser: In addition my father had another business, a warehouse where they sell coal. He had a coal business and he needed the wagons to haul the coal from other cities, and to sell it.
  • David Boder: So you took your horses and wagons and got away. Where did you all go? Your father and mother and who else?
  • Fela Nichthauser: Two younger brothers and I.
  • David Boder: Are you the oldest in the family?
  • Fela Nichthauser: No, I still had a married sister who lived before the war at the Russian border in Baranovici. And since 1939, we have had no word from our sister and we don't know what happened to her.
  • David Boder: Is Baranovici not far from Slonim?
  • Fela Nichthauser: I think so, yes.
  • David Boder: Now tell me, one of your brothers is now here?
  • Fela Nichthauser: Yes. He is here with me and the other was also with the younger one in Buchenwald. And fate wanted it so that a few days before the Americans came he was sent away with a transport because he still could move as if he were well, and on the road the whole transport was shot.
  • David Boder: They shot the whole transport? ! So it is the older brother who is here?
  • Fela Nichthauser: No. The younger one. The youngest of the whole family.
  • David Boder: And why wasn't he taken?
  • Fela Nichthauser: Because he was very sick at the infirmary. He was very sick at Buchenwald and didn't even know that the other brother was taken.
  • David Boder: So you went with your parents to Radovitz?
  • Fela Nichthauser: No, we went to Sandomierz. We wanted to go further but we found out that the Germans were already there and we had to return home. The things were stolen from us. We had at home a big garden. Everything was ransacked and we were left without anything. Five people and we didn't have a penny to live on. And I had to work very, very hard—and with my daddy, with my mutti, and my brother,—just to pay the rent and to have some bread.
  • David Boder: Weren't you living in your own home?
  • Fela Nichthauser: We had no home of our own. Father just rented a flat. My father was the manager of the building.
  • David Boder: So then you returned to --
  • Fela Nichthauser: Back to Poland and the same city.
  • David Boder: What city was it?
  • Fela Nichthauser: Exactly the same city. We went back to Andrychów.
  • David Boder: You returned to Andrychów. And what did your father do then?
  • Fela Nichthauser: He worked on the street with a shovel. Because the Germans demanded it. All men had to work on the street and the Jewish girls were taken to scrub floors and to wash windows.
  • David Boder: For whom?
  • Fela Nichthauser: For the Germans. For the police. For everybody. And I was taken, but I worked well and worked very hard, because I intended to go to the Lieutenant and to tell him that I don't want to work for nothing and that I should get paid. And the other people worked without pay. And so it became possible for me to get three marks a day and that helped me a great deal, because I had to eat. And my father also earned something, and a few other Jews also worked well.
  • David Boder: Did you have any money hidden?
  • Fela Nichthauser: No. We really didn't have such luck. We couldn't hide away anything. We had a family of five children, five not yet grown up children who couldn't earn their money, so everything was on the shoulders of the parents.
  • David Boder: You told me before that you had horses and wagons. Did you return with those horses and wagons?
  • Fela Nichthauser: Yes, with one horse. The other horse was shot.
  • David Boder: Who shot the horse?
  • Fela Nichthauser: He was hit by a piece of shrapnel.
  • David Boder: Shrapnel! How did shrapnel happen to strike there?
  • Fela Nichthauser: Because we were returning together with the Polish Army on the same road, and many other carriages and lots of people have joined it. That was a terrible thing.
  • David Boder: Why?
  • Fela Nichthauser: Because we were betrayed. It was known that the Polish Army was with us, and so they were shooting at us and we were in constant fear. We could not move to get anything for ourselves.
  • David Boder: Now, and then what happened?
  • Fela Nichthauser: Then I remained two years at home, and in 1940 came the first blow. With the first transport they deported my brother who was at the time seventeen years old. It was terrible. And my father didn't want him to go alone to the lager. So he represented himself to be a man of fifty-six. It did not help that Mutti pleaded with him and I pleaded with him that he shouldn't leave us because it would be much more difficult for us without him. But he replied that he could not let the child go to the lager alone. He must go with him. And so he was accepted very readily. The Germans accepted him. And my father departed with my brother. In 1940. And then it became very hard for us. I had to work; the twelve year old child did work with a shovel in the street. We had to pay our rent, buy food and buy provisions to send packages to the lager.
  • David Boder: Did they permit you to send packages?
  • Fela Nichthauser: Yes, we could send packages of two kilos.
  • David Boder: How far away was the camp?
  • Fela Nichthauser: It was very far away. My father was with my brother in various camps. The first lager was Wischau. That is in Germany. I don't know where. Then he was in Flessing. That is near Gleiwitz. Then he was in Blechame near Sakrow. The last lager was Dachau.
  • David Boder: The last lager was Dachau?
  • Fela Nichthauser: Yes. After a year my brother returned home. He was freed because he had a terrible leg. He did something to himself on purpose, so that he should be sent home.
  • David Boder: By the Germans?
  • Fela Nichthauser: Yes, by the Germans. And the papa remained there. So since that time we don't know a thing . . . And we remained home for another year. In 1941 the whole city was evacuated. It was two weeks after my brother returned from the lager. He came from the lager and Mutti worked in another city in order to get a special card so that she would not be sent away. She worked there. And we three children, my brothers and I, were in the city, working on the street. And it was on the 10th of June in the year '41 that the whole city was called to a big square.
  • David Boder: Only the Jews?
  • Fela Nichthauser: Only the Jews. Naturally. And we were to be deported.
  • David Boder: And what was the name of this city?
  • Fela Nichthauser: Andrychów.
  • David Boder: That was in what district?
  • Fela Nichthauser: That was in the district of Bielitz. I was born in Wadowice but we lived in Andrychów. That wasn't far.
  • David Boder: The whole city was called together? Where was your mother at that time?
  • Fela Nichthauser: My mother was in the other city where she worked. That was twelve kilometers away.
  • David Boder: Oh. That was twelve kilometers away.
  • Fela Nichthauser: Yes. And she had left in the evening because she worked on the night shift and she was to return by six o'clock. We were deported Monday night. We saw our mother off at the station and we kissed her and she gave us instructions as to what we should do the next morning and, alas, we didn't know that we were seeing Mutti for the last time. And the next morning at six we got up to go to work. It was a wonderful day and there was nothing in the air at all . . . We didn't think at all that such a horrible thing may come. And here there come two Jewish policemen and two SS and tell us we were to go immediately to the square of assembly.
  • David Boder: You told them that your mother was in the other city?
  • Fela Nichthauser: Indeed I told them. I was so dumb. I couldn't believe that the Germans could be so mean as to laugh at me. And I told them I have to wait for my mutti because she was supposed to return by six o'clock. So they told me not to worry about Mutti, that Mutti will come, and so we had to go to the assembly square and there frightful things occurred before us. This I won't ever forget.
  • David Boder: What happened there?
  • Fela Nichthauser: They took not only the healthy persons, but also the very old people who were almost unable to move, who were very sick. I myself, I personally saw a seventy-year-old woman, all swollen from sickness, being dragged along the grass because it was revulsive to them to lift her. She was all soft, from her swellings. But I could not look on. I was permitted to lift up that woman and to carry her on a bed to the big hall. And we saw various things that I could not forget. People were separated . . .
  • David Boder: Tell me what happened to you. You were with your brother?
  • Fela Nichthauser: With two brothers. One who had returned from the lager.
  • David Boder: And where is he now, the one who returned from the lager?
  • Fela Nichthauser: He isn't alive anymore.
  • David Boder: He doesn't live anymore?
  • Fela Nichthauser: That is the one who just before liberation was sent to transport.
  • David Boder: Oh, the one from the transport. Do you mean to say he returned and then he was sent away again?
  • Fela Nichthauser: No, but that is how we came to the square for assembly.
  • David Boder: That means you and your two brothers.
  • Fela Nichthauser: And we stood before a committee and they questioned us; we showed our work cards and they saw that we were three young and healthy people, so it was ordered that all three should be sent to the lager. This business was settled and I don't want to describe the whole scene.
  • David Boder: I want you to tell me everything. Tell me what happened.
  • Fela Nichthauser: My uncle stood there with three children.
  • David Boder: Tell me only that which you have seen yourself. Your uncle stood there because
  • Fela Nichthauser: Because all the people were distributed in groups. People for the camps, old people for transport to Auschwitz, and some people who were to remain in the same city for work. So there were three groups. What we saw made one's heart ache terribly. Just to see how these people treated us, that on one motion, on one gesture of a German man depended the fate and life of a person. If he made with the hand so, or so, [she demonstrates] that meant he would go for deportation from which nobody returned. My uncle with the three children stood on the side for deportation, while his wife with my mutti were working together. And he cried terribly and the children around him held on to his arms and they all cried terribly, and they yelled to me that I should transmit regards to his wife, and he didn't know that I too was being sent to a lager. He thought I will see his wife and he pleaded with me that I should console her, that he will return, that he will protect the three children and nothing will happen to them. And we saw his face and the little children and I will never forget it. There stood next to him a man whom I also knew very well. He was an acquaintance from our city who stood there with nine children. The oldest child was eleven years old. His wife also remained in the same city where my mutti worked; most of the women remained there.
  • David Boder: What was there?
  • Fela Nichthauser: A factory. A shop they called it. [It is interesting to note that the Germans used the English words shop]. They were sewing there for the Germans. Uniforms or sacks for bread for the soldiers. He stood there with his nine children. It was really . . .
  • David Boder: How many children?
  • Fela Nichthauser: Nine.
  • David Boder: Your uncle with nine children?
  • Fela Nichthauser: No, that man with the nine children. The oldest was eleven years old. And indeed when one saw it, how one's heart could be moved, and all the nine children started crying and their faces looked horrible. Really, I don't find words.
  • David Boder: And so your uncle with his three children together was sent away.
  • Fela Nichthauser: Yes, they went with the old people to Auschwitz.
  • David Boder: The children were sent with the old people?
  • Fela Nichthauser: Together, because they knew that nothing can be gotten from old people nor children. That nothing can be gotten.
  • David Boder: Now tell me what happened to you and your brothers.
  • Fela Nichthauser: We stood there for several hours on the square. We got food and we were worried over Mutti. We also thought that she will return but unfortunately we didn't know that in that city the same thing happened as here.
  • David Boder: In the other city too?
  • Fela Nichthauser: In the other city too. And there, the people were sent away. And although my mother was forty-five years old she and my aunt too, and also the wife of my friend - they all were deported and sent to Auschwitz. That is what fate wanted.
  • David Boder: They were sent to Auschwitz? And what was Auschwitz?
  • Fela Nichthauser: Auschwitz was a work lager. It was called a work lager but it was a crematory. I wasn't there but people who survived personally, have told me a lot about it.
  • David Boder: On the same day you were taken your mother also was taken from her shop?
  • Fela Nichthauser: And sent to Auschwitz with the whole transport. They wrote to me about seeing my mother in the last moment, how she was in the railroad car in which previously cattle were transported, and she had sent regards to the three children. And she was told that she should not worry, that the three children were taken to the lager. And that was the last.
  • David Boder: Now wait a moment. Your mother worked there during the night, and you were called in the morning. And you thought your mother will return. What time did you say your mother will be back?
  • Fela Nichthauser: At half past five. And this time she did not return and that is what happened there.
  • David Boder: So you went with your two brothers to the lager.
  • Fela Nichthauser: No, not at first. First we were sent to Sosnovitzi. All the transports that had to go to a camp first went there. There was a transit lager. There the people were sorted out. And after that the girls were sent to a lager for women and the boys went to a lager for men.
  • David Boder: And how old were the two boys?
  • Fela Nichthauser: One brother was at that time 18, and the younger brother was 13.
  • David Boder: Now
  • Fela Nichthauser: Now we came, we stood before the doctor. I was the first. And they saw that I was well. I had a beautiful tan. I was very beautiful. [Here she stops and blushes and then continues the sentence]. I was very beautifully sunburned, because for the last half year I worked in the fields for the Germans outdoors all day, and so he said that surely I was fit to go to the lager. I didn't say a word. I couldn't defend myself, I still stood there and my heart ached. I wanted badly that the two brothers should go home, because I was sure that Mutti will come home. I didn't know that the same thing happened in the other city. That we got to know only later. And there stood the other brother, the eighteen-year-old one, before the doctor. And the doctor recognized him. He was the one who let him go two weeks ago from Dachau. He recognized him. It was a Pole and he asked him, 'What are you doing here? I have set you free.' And my brother said, 'What can I do? We had a selection and I had to go and my leg is not yet well.' He said, 'I shall give you a note and you can go back home', and he was put aside with the people who were to go home and then came the little one before the doctor. I pleaded with him that he should set the little one free, that he wasn't yet 14 years old, only 13. He should permit him to go home so he could be with Mutti and the other brother. He is still a child and he wouldn't be able to get along. But the doctor said: 'Since I have set free one, I cannot set free the other.' And we had to agree. Because the inspector of the lager. Knoll, a German and an SS man, had called all the Jews to the square. He could free them; he could send them to the lager. And he [the doctor] told my brother that he should stand right in front and because he is so small possibly something fortunate might happen. They may notice that he was small and he will be set free. He had beautiful hair, golden curls, but he didn't obey, it was something new for him. [Mockingly] He goes to a lager. He doesn't understand what it means. He goes to a lager that's a new life for him. He didn't understand.
  • David Boder: Did he think that was something good?
  • Fela Nichthauser: He thought it was something good. He couldn't understand; he was a child. He wanted to appear important, be sent to a lager and write letters from the lager and so on. We couldn't explain it to him and he hid behind, and still it was written by fate differently. Knoll noticed him and called him forward and asked him how old he was. And he said 13 years. And Knoll asked him whether he can work. So he said yes. Do you want to go to the lager? And he said no. So he asked him whether he had somebody at home, so he said yes, I have the mutti home, he thought that Mother was home [her weeping comes through on the wire].
  • David Boder: So what did Knoll say?
  • Fela Nichthauser: He asked him: 'Do you have somebody home?' And he said, 'Yes, the mother'. So he says 'Run home,' and I stood at the window and saw it all. And again it was fortunate that by sheer accident the little brother was set free. I saw the two brothers set free and I went to the lager.
  • David Boder: And what happened then? To what lager were you sent?
  • Fela Nichthauser: I was sent to a lager Birkenheim. That was the district of Auerbach in lower Silesia. There was a big factory. A big textile plant.
  • David Boder: Where was the plant?
  • Fela Nichthauser: In Birkenheim. A big plant. Germans worked there. And there were already a hundred girls in the barracks. And other hundreds arrived, from our city, and from the different towns around. And so I felt for the first time that everything behind me was lost. The gate closed and I entered into a dark hall. There stood beds, and beds, and more beds and nothing else. And so my second life began.
  • David Boder: And that was where?
  • Fela Nichthauser: In Birkenheim. I worked there for half a year.
  • David Boder: At the loom?
  • Fela Nichthauser: At two looms.
  • David Boder: Were these electric looms?
  • Fela Nichthauser: Yes. Electric looms. I had to service the machines myself, had to fix everything, had to get the material. I knew the machine well. The German master taught me. It wasn't very bad with the food. Nor with the cleanliness, but only very little freedom. We saw no people at all. The gates were covered with sack cloth and shutters so that we shouldn't see the street. We only saw the little garden where we sat and the barracks.
  • David Boder: Did they allow any books or papers?
  • Fela Nichthauser: No, nothing. We were allowed once in two weeks to write a letter. A post card and that was all. And Sunday when we were free we were permitted to lie on the bed, or on that little square. We barely had room for ourselves and nothing else.
  • David Boder: Were you permitted to sing?
  • Fela Nichthauser: Yes, that we were permitted to do. That was during the first year in the lager. Things were not yet so bad. It wasn't yet a concentration camp. It was a so-called work lager [Arbeitslager] where one worked very hard. In the winter we could not dress well.
  • David Boder: Why?
  • Fela Nichthauser: Well, for example, we could put something on on the way to the factory, but in the factory we could not wear a pullover or a jacket. One would become stiff. You see they were afraid that one works badly when one is warmly dressed. One has less movement and it was believed that one works less and makes lots less meters of goods when one moves slower. When you are lightly dressed you can move faster.
  • David Boder: Was the factory heated?
  • Fela Nichthauser: No, no, no it was not heated at all. There were frightfully large rooms with long, long rows of machines, just machine after machine. We were not permitted to talk all day. Not even to each other. Even if the girls would not be watched, because the motors, the many motors would not permit us to talk.
  • David Boder: Was it too noisy?
  • Fela Nichthauser: Yes. And before our eyes was a very large clock so that we should know the time; that we should know that we have to work from 7 to 12 and from 1 to 6 in the evening. And it was done for the purpose that the time should appear to us longer, for if one has a clock before his eyes time goes much slower. When one does not see the time, one asks, 'What time it is, what time is it?', and one is pleasantly surprised if he hears it is already eleven or eleven thirty, and if one has constantly the time before his eyes it is very bad. And they did it on purpose so that we should feel bad.
  • David Boder: Now tell me, what happened when somebody would get sick?
  • Fela Nichthauser: When one was sick, one had to be really sick, so that one could remain a day or two in the lager.
  • David Boder: Was there a doctor, was there a hospital?
  • Fela Nichthauser: No, absolutely no. There was only a nurse, a very small sick room of two or three beds. When one really had gall stones or heart trouble he would be put there for a few days until he was again well and could work again.
  • David Boder: Now tell me, how long did you work in the spinnery?
  • Fela Nichthauser: We worked there six months and then came an order that in another lager, in Weidenburg in Lower Silesia fifty girls were needed. So we were sorted out and I was in the group that had to go. And so I left this lager and went to another lager. This was not a weaving plant, but a spinning plant.
  • David Boder: Did you have to learn it anew?
  • Fela Nichthauser: There was nobody. It was a new lager; the barracks were just put up, there was nothing, no beds, not a thing. We had to beg for everything. They didn't want to give us any water, not a dish. They believed that because we are Jews we don't need anything, that we keep dirty and we, of course, don't need anything. We can live like animals. And so we had to fight for each saucer, for every little dish, for every blanket to cover ourselves. In a few months the situation somewhat improved. It happened that a woman lager commander arrived and when she saw how neat we kept and that we are just like other people with whom one can talk; who understand; that we were not like people were saying abut us here in the factory; and she took the matter up with the director and we were given various things.
  • David Boder: Who was the lager commander?
  • Fela Nichthauser: She was a German woman. Not an SS woman. She was a plain German woman.
  • David Boder: Did it ever happen that some girls refused to work?
  • Fela Nichthauser: No, everybody wanted to work because every girl was in good health. Not very eagerly. But when one was forced, one was put before a machine, she stayed there and worked. And in time we would get accustomed to the work. The people with us were not too bad. We worked together with the Germans and from time to time we could slip a word to them. And there we were eighteen months.
  • David Boder: You mean to say that also Germans worked there? Prisoners or outside workers?
  • Fela Nichthauser: Outside workers. Free people, free Germans.
  • David Boder: These people came to the factory?
  • Fela Nichthauser: Yes. Those who wanted to earn something.
  • David Boder: Were they friendly to the prisoners?
  • Fela Nichthauser: Not all of them. Some were dangerous. Some spied whether we were not talking to the other Germans. One had to be very careful.
  • David Boder: Now how long did that last?
  • Fela Nichthauser: Eighteen months I was there.
  • David Boder: Did they pay you for the work?
  • Fela Nichthauser: No. Absolutely nothing.
  • David Boder: Was there no concentration camp money? Some script to the canteen?
  • Fela Nichthauser: No, absolutely nothing. We had our own kitchen and the girls cooked in the kitchen.
  • David Boder: Did they give you soap?
  • Fela Nichthauser: No, we never got soap. We still had some things from the other lager. When we came to that lager we still had all our things from home. And we had soap and some other things that we needed. And that they did not take away from us, in that lager so that we had everything.
  • David Boder: And so you were for a year and a half in the spinnery.
  • Fela Nichthauser: Yes, and year and a half in the spinnery.
  • David Boder: And that was in what city?
  • Fela Nichthauser: In Weidenburg.
  • David Boder: And where did you go from Weidenburg?
  • Fela Nichthauser: From Weidenburg we went to Graeben. That is twelve kilometers from a very big and famous lager, Gross Rosen.
  • David Boder: And why were you sent away from Weidenburg?
  • Fela Nichthauser: Because the time came when all the little lagers were concentrated into larger lagers. And our lager consisted only of fifty people and there came Knoll, the same one who was one time in Sosnovitz. He came to us and said that we have to go to a different lager, and the next day we left the lager and traveled to Graeben. That was a flax camp.
  • David Boder: Only women?
  • Fela Nichthauser: Yes, only women. It was only a lager for women and there we were again for more than a year and a half. But then already the bad times started. That was already a concentration camp with very strict rules, and we definitely felt that we were not human being. No Jews, just animals, just at the mercy of the Germans.
  • David Boder: Was that in the flax camp?
  • Fela Nichthauser: Yes, in the flax camp [there was an interruption in the interview. Somebody entered the room and left again]. The work was very hard; I suffered very much. The halls were large. We worked there the whole winter. It was terribly cold. I had nothing to wear. They took away everything. The SS came one day to the manager of women. They called us out of bed. We were told to get out of bed and get out on the yard. They counted us up and they talked to us. The SS people told us that they see that we are in good health and fine looking and that they won't do us any harm. They will give us our things back, that we should work well and no harm will be done to us.
  • David Boder: That occurred in the same place, in the flax plant?
  • Fela Nichthauser: Yes, and they told us that we should remain for an hour outside.
  • David Boder: In what month was that?
  • Fela Nichthauser: That was in December. That was in the year 1944. And they told us that we should remain outside. And while we were there all the SS men and all the SS women went into the barracks. They took away everything. They ruined everything.
  • David Boder: What do you mean, they ruined everything?
  • Fela Nichthauser: Well, they opened all the lockers, they turned over the beds. They made an inspection and they just threw together our best things, cut them with scissors. They just ruined everything.
  • David Boder: And then what?
  • Fela Nichthauser: We didn't know a thing. Just a moment ago they told us everything will be all right. That we will have our things, and that we will be able to dress the way we want to and so on. And that was just a trick on their part so that we should just forget ourselves for a moment, and then they did to us such a thing. [This concludes spool 15, we continue with spool 16].
  • David Boder: [In English] This concludes Spool fifteen (15) of Fela Nichthauser and we shall continue with her story on Spool sixteen (16). David Boder, Interviewer.
  • David Boder: This is a continuation of Spool 15—Spool 16 , the continuation of the story of Fela Nichthauser.
  • David Boder: [In German] You were telling me that they came and you had to stand outside. They had promised that they will allow you to keep your things; they went into the barracks. Now what did they do while you were outside?
  • Fela Nichthauser: They ruined our things thoroughly, thoroughly. And then they told us to go inside. So we were left with nothing to wear, except the things we had on ourselves. And there were many girls who were just ready to go bathing and so they had put on some kind of morning dress and the other things they had left inside, in the barracks. And they remained that way. All completely naked, just in a morning dress.
  • David Boder: I don't understand. What do you really mean by saying they have ruined your things?
  • Fela Nichthauser: Well, they didn't want us to go around in nice things. We were still young, we were girls, and we had still all our things from home. They did not want it. They just craved the satisfaction to have done something bad to us.
  • David Boder: All right, but what did they really do with your things?
  • Fela Nichthauser: Most of the things they have taken away and they made a warehouse and they told us that each week we will get a shirt, a pair of stockings, a dress, an overcoat in case it should be cold; and of course, we had to submit. And we were not permitted to have anything. But afterward the rooms were again put in order and they told us that none of us would dare have more than a pair of stockings, a pair of underthings or more than one shirt. We should not dare to have more than what is being given to us. And that was for us a big blow because we were not accustomed to such conditions. Anything that we had from home was so dear to us, because these were the only tokens of remembrance. And it was difficult during the war to make something. Still they have ruined everything without heart, without anything. And everything they have ruined. And they liked to see it so. And they told us to get on with our work. We were on the night shift. Without food, without sleep, without washing ourselves. Still they told us to go on to the factory. Go on with our work as usual. And there came a very strong winter, and we had to stand at the machinery that was thousands of times bigger than ourselves. Terribly big machinery, without help, without anybody, in frost, and in hunger; and we had to stay there and work. Twelve hours, from six o'clock in the morning until six o'clock in the evening. Only the next week it was six o'clock in the evening until six o'clock in the morning. With only a quarter of an hour for rest.
  • David Boder: Were they working on Sunday.
  • Fela Nichthauser: They mostly worked Sundays. They told us that we were free, but wagon-loads of flax would arrive from the fields and we had to go to work and unload everything, and unload all of that in the biggest and worst frost.
  • David Boder: What were you doing with that flax?
  • Fela Nichthauser: That was processed by machines and a better flax would come out and then it was processed by other machines and then it would come to the spinnery and from the spinnery to the weaving plant. So it went on.
  • David Boder: And how long were you at this flax plant?
  • Fela Nichthauser: About a year and a half. There I was terribly sick. I once fell off my bed, because we had two level or three level bunks. I was on the night shift and I wanted to get up early I was still half asleep, and so I fell down and I caused myself a very small wound on the bone. I paid no attention, I thought it would heal in a couple of days. I have been working in dust, because there was a terrible dust. That was the worst thing. That was because this dust got into our noses and our lungs. We could not talk or breathe there. We couldn't even see each other, so much dust there was around. So the dust got into that little wound; it became larger. She is showing me now a scar on her right leg about two inches long, and an inch and a half wide]. And so, this wound became bigger from day to day. Pus developed and I had a temperature of 40[centigrade] and had to stay in bed. I thought that in a week or two that will get well. Still it lasted two and a half months. I could not walk. I was very weak, and so I remained in bed for two and a half months.
  • David Boder: Did you remain in the barracks?
  • Fela Nichthauser: In the barracks.
  • David Boder: You were not in a hospital?
  • Fela Nichthauser: No, absolutely, no.
  • David Boder: Did the doctor come to see you?
  • Fela Nichthauser: No, absolutely, no. I didn't want him. If I would have asked for a doctor there would have come a German doctor and he would have said that I had to go to Auschwitz, as being unfit for work. And so it happened after a certain length of time.
  • David Boder: And how did they allow you to stay in bed?
  • Fela Nichthauser: Well, in the morning appell your name was called. So the doctor (she was a Russian woman medico-sanitar), would say: 'The Nichthauser is sick, she is unable to work'. And they believed her, and the SS lager chief woman would come every day to the barracks to see whether somebody hadn't remained there. She would go into the room for the sick and see especially that somebody isn't pretending to be sick. She herself would examine the people. The reports from our lager were going to Gross-Rosen because that wasn't far from us.
  • David Boder: Why so?
  • Fela Nichthauser: For example, we belonged to the concentration camp Gross-Rosen and everything that happened in our lager had to be made known to the commandant of Gross-Rosen. For example, every day there went over a list of the sick and also of the ones who were well and able to work. And so my name went there often, almost every day during the two and a half months. I am sick, constantly sick, and they didn't like it very much because I remained so long in the lager so there came an order that I should be sent to the Auschwitz crematory because I am unfit for work and it is impossible to keep me longer. They didn't tell me that. They knew how sensitive I was. They were afraid that I would do something; they didn't tell me anything. Only after liberation I was told that I was to be sent within a few day to Auschwitz; and all were very grieved and still they couldn't do anything and it surely would have happened that way. Within a few days there came an order that all girls, that means the whole lager had to go to transport. It was again one of those times when all the lagers were dissolved and again people were driven away because the Russians were already near. And so we, the sick, had to get up and those who were well also had to get up, and we had to pack all our things, everything we had. We were given a little piece of bread, a bit of margarine, a bit of marmalade, and so we started on foot to transport, and we didn't know where to. And we were marching thirty-five kilometers a day without a stop, without a halt for rest, without anything with SS men, with soldiers, with all the SS women who were with us, and so we were driven day and night, day and night.
  • David Boder: Were the SS men also marching on foot?
  • Fela Nichthauser: Yes, also on foot. Often it would happen that an automobile would pass. They would take all the SS men on the automobiles. Only two or three soldiers remained with us to watch us, and the rest were driving a few kilometers ahead and then wait for us again, in some town.
  • David Boder: Were all people able to march?
  • Fela Nichthauser: That's it. We were not. I myself couldn't walk. I had a sick leg, I had that time a temperature of about 40, about 39.
  • David Boder: Was it winter or summer?
  • Fela Nichthauser: It was winter. It was in January. And before we started out—we knew that someday we will have to march—and so many girls made themselves socks and caps out of blankets.
  • David Boder: Did they permit that?
  • Fela Nichthauser: It wasn't permitted. We were hiding them. They would have killed us if they would have known that we have made these things. And then, on the day of the transport when she saw that we have these things on us she did not care anymore. She was already leaving the lager. And that was in part our salvation because it was terribly cold, and we outdoors. One night we came to a village where they permitted us to sleep in a barn. But we were five hundred girls and barely one hundred and fifty could get in. The rest remained outside. So we lay down on the cobble-stones and on the snow. It was just a miracle that many did not fall asleep forever. And so we marched and marched until we came to Yanoff. I don't know where it is; I just know the name of the city. There they put us in railroad cards, but such cold cars, open gondolas, dirty. Where barely eighty people could get on, they put one hundred and fifty of us in each car. We were lying one on the other; we were yelling. We began to cease being human because we knew it was just impossible otherwise. We would shout at each other: "Move on! Make room!" We had to talk rudely to each other; it just didn't go otherwise. They did it all on purpose so that we should become mean to each other. Well, we did not beat each other, but it wasn't far from it. And the conditions were terrible. In general no food, and traveling day and night. It was snowing and we were wet through and through. The soldiers and SS men had a separate car. Not a passenger car, but a closed one and there they had a stove, not an electrical, but just a stove, and there they cooked, and prepared various things. They drank coffee and we had to look on. And so we traveled for several days. When we stopped at a station we asked permission of the woman lager commander to wash ourselves, because we haven't washed ourselves for already two, three weeks. When the trip was first on foot she permitted us to wash, and it was January. We undressed and we went into the pond. So we washed ourselves in icy, ice-cold water. She marveled at us. Everybody marveled at us. They didn't want to believe that we were Jews. All that they have heard was that the Jews are dirty. They are unfit to keep clean. The young and beautiful girls had to use such water! With a knife we had to break through the ice so that we could wash a little bit. We cleaned our things and returned to the dirty railroad car. So we traveled several weeks again without food, without anything. They gave us some cold preserves without bread, without anything. It was salty. No water. It really was a miracle . . . One asked a soldier to give us from a pump or a well some water! At every station there was so much water but they wouldn't permit us to fetch it. Sometimes when the train was standing we went over to the locomotive and we scooped up that dirty water, oily warm water. It was so greasy from the oil but we grabbed it so nobody would see us and we drank that water, that dirty water. One night we arrived in Belsen. We stood there in the open. We arrived there at three o'clock at night. We were told we had first to bathe because they were afraid we may have lice. So we, five hundred girls divided into five groups, and each group went separately and they let the girls out from different doors so that they could not talk to us and could not tell us anything what they had been doing, so that we could be prepared. And that precisely was bad. And then my turn came. We were undressed completely naked, we were permitted to take only our shoes.
  • David Boder: Who did that? Other women?
  • Fela Nichthauser: Those were men.
  • David Boder: And men made you undress.
  • Fela Nichthauser: Yes. they were special prisoners, still lower than we were, so they should have the satisfaction of doing it to us. But we responded with ironic laughter. Women were also present. Jewish women who had to work there.
  • David Boder: What were the women doing?
  • Fela Nichthauser: The women were taking away the things. They put them on a stick and the things went into a special oven where they were disinfected so no lice should remain on them, although we had no lice at that time. They undressed us and told us that we will get out things back. So we went in bathing. We wanted to take a shirt or something else for a towel but they did not permit us to do it. We went in just so, only the shoes we could take. But at that time we had no good shoes. Mine were big, very big wooden shoes. Three pair of feet like mine could go into one such shoe, with which I have worked already for months in the lager, and these we could take with us. I still had some pictures from home, from my mutti, from my papa, and from my brothers and sisters and many, many other pictures. But I specially wanted to take with me those of my family. They didn't permit me to do so. They immediately burned it all except for a few small pictures that I hid deep in the shoe so that they could not find them. I saved these few pictures which are so precious to me, and are full of deep memories. And so I went bathing under the shower and there were men present. They laughed, they mocked us, they went amidst the wet bodies and they . . . [here she said she couldn't find a German expression and just showed what they were doing slapping herself on the buttocks]. And for the bathing they took us into a hall where the water was frozen on the walls. And no towels were given, no soap, we just washed ourselves, that way in the water and we stood in that hall for hours, and waited until the things came from that oven, from disinfection. That is how we dried ourselves. The water on our hair froze to the head, and the drops of water froze on us. We huddled ourselves to each other so that we could warm ourselves a bit. We really could not believe that people could do such things to us, move us after such very hot water to such a cold hall, where there was only water and frost. We had to get dry by ourselves. I was all blue from the cold. So we waited two hours until our things came and they were really not our things that came. I did not get my dress but a dress that belonged to another girl, and to the other girl they gave in turn my things. Everything was mixed up. We got a shirt, a pair of pantaloons and a dress. They did not permit anything more. Everything else we had to abandon. So we went at night, deep in the night, late in the night to the barracks. We were chased and beaten, so we should go faster.
  • David Boder: Who beat you?
  • Fela Nichthauser: The soldiers. They were just soldiers, not SS men. Plain soldiers. We didn't know the way to the barracks. It was very far from the bathhouse. We arrived in the barracks and it was ptich dark. We couldn't see the door or nothing. They pushed us in like pigs. Locked us up and went away. And so in the dark we looked for some bed, for a table. One couldn't find anything. But on the next morning, when daylight appeared, we saw that the room was empty, that we had nothing. We had only the floor and the walls. Broken glass in the windows, and the wind blew from all sides. We sat down on the dirty floor and our life started anew. From January to April, I was in Belsen. But these couple of months cost me much more than the three and a half years spent in other lagers. In the other lagers I could wash myself, we did not suffer from hunger, we could go around clean, I could keep my things still in order. Here we were five hundred girls in one barracks. Soon arrived five hundred more two hundred more, one hundred more, everyday . . . Hungarian poeple, Russian people, all kinds. Old people, healthy people and sick people. All together, one next to the other. One had lice, the other did not have any, so now she had lice too. And so it was. Horrible, horrible. And so we sat there for months on the dirty soiled floor.
  • David Boder: Didn't you work in Belsen?
  • Fela Nichthauser: Absolutely no. Only the strong Russian people worked there. Not the Russians, the Ukranians.
  • David Boder: Women?
  • Fela Nichthauser: Yes, they were very strong, twenty-five to thirty years of age.
  • David Boder: What kind of work were they doing?
  • Fela Nichthauser: They worked in the fields. In the gardens. It was a very, very big lager and extended for kilometers. Before, it was a military instalation. Soldiers lived there, and later they made it a concentration camp. There the people were concentrated to be led to their death, to be driven to their death. There was a crematory where they burned only the dead people. They didn't have to burn the people alive because thousands and thousands were lying before the blocks every day, dead from typhus.
  • David Boder: Before your block?
  • Fela Nichthauser: My block and various other blocks. After I was a few days in the block they ordered a part of the girls to go to another block. So I went there. We didn't know where and what for and we noticed that it was a block on which it was written, "Here reigns death". It was a typhus block. In it were only old Gypsies, Hungarians. They all had typhus and we were still all well. We still looked human. This block led us to all evil. I was there with Gypsies, they were reasonably friendly with me. These were German Gypsies. It was dirty, terribly dirty.
  • David Boder: Were there so many Gypsies?
  • Fela Nichthauser: There were a lot of people. There really weren't so many Gypsies but they were all mixed up. There was a terrible mess of people.
  • David Boder: And you too were in those barracks?
  • Fela Nichthauser: Yes, I still was well that time. I still had a little piece of blanket, that I was beating out every day. I cleaned it. I still had in my possession a little comb, a tooth brush, some tooth paste, and my hair brush.
  • David Boder: Tooth paste, where from? Where did you get toothpaste?
  • Fela Nichthauser: We got it sometimes in the other lager, not very good paste, but one could still clean his teeth with it. I had that and nothing else. My overcoat and a piece of blanket and I brushed them every day. I brushed them with my hair brush.
  • David Boder: Did they let you out during the day?
  • Fela Nichthauser: Only in front of the block. It was fenced off with barbed wire, because that was a typhus block. It was contagious and so other people shouldn't get near there.
  • David Boder: Did any of the girls with you get sick?
  • Fela Nichthauser: We came five hundred to Belsen and one hundred and twenty-two remained. There was a special list made of us. The rest died from typhus or from sheer dirt. I too came pretty close to it. I remember the day when I saw the first lice on myself. On my blouse. I couldn't believe it, I cried like a little child. I had never lice on me and I couldn't believe it. Other people had lice, but I shouldn't have had any. And so the others, near to whom I was sitting laughed at me! 'today you have one, tomorrow you will have two, in a week you will have thousands!' And so it was. And then I didn't have any more strength to remove the lice from me. They crawled over me like ants . . .
  • David Boder: On your body?
  • Fela Nichthauser: Yes. And although I looked over my things twice a day so that I should have some rest at least for five minutes. But at night I couldn't sleep. We were not sleeping with our legs stretched out. We slept sitting up because there was no room. People were sitting in rows, back to back. The legs, just very little space for them. So we sat for months, for weeks without food. At the end we didn't get any bread; for six weeks we had no bread. Only a little bit of soup if you could call that soup. Water with turnips and without salt. Once a day a very small cup, and we had still to fight for it. And there were terrifying scenes. So frightful. There were my girl friends with whom I was in the other lager. Such beautiful girls, young girls. In the other lager we sometimes enjoyed a bit of humor, we danced, even gave some plays. There were very gifted girls among us. I too was one of them. For instance I arranged various theatricals. If a girl had a birthday, for example, we always would arrange something. And we sang or put a little verse together so we could bring about a bit of joy. And that all passed through my memories while I was in Belsen. And I saw the same girls who danced with me, who were so gay before, so full of will to live in spite of the hard life. Then we still believed in freedom. Now one after the other died. At the block where I was, the face of every girl near dead was so changed, I could recognize that such a girl will die in a few minutes. Only from hunger and from filth. How often was I called, I should come over! People, the called. ''Come over to me!' I couldn't do it because I felt my heart would break. One was unable to see the person. Just the eyes. Eyes and lice. One didn't see anything else but lice. And all in tatters, no clothes.
  • David Boder: What do you mean by lice, just lice?
  • Fela Nichthauser: No person, just lice all over her. One would look over his things. Everything would be cleaned up. All beaten out to the last piece of blanket. And one would sit down. In a moment the same thing all over again. People had terrible skin erruptions. After I was freed I was full of skin sores. My body was covered with wounds. It was terrible. We did not believe that I will get it over. Many girls, many of my girl friends went insane. People were yelling at night: 'Where am I?' They were calling, mama. They were calling brother. They were calling. One had to hold one's ears, not to listen to such screams. One didn't want to believe it and every day the Germans would come in, the German women—for appell. Every day they called us for appell. I can remember Irma Grese. Her I knew in person. You should have heard of her.
  • David Boder: Which Irma Groese?
  • Fela Nichthauser: Irma Grese who was recently hanged.
  • David Boder: Oh, that one.
  • Fela Nichthauser: Yes, from Belsen. I knew her personally. I didn't know that she was called Irma Grese. Now after liberation I saw her picture in the paper. These things have been written about, how she dressed and what kind of a face she had and so I knew that it was she. I remember her very well. She did with us, specially with our block, such terrible things. Her face, you know, was so beautiful. Large blue eyes, and beatuiful golden hair. Beautifully dressed in such a trim SS costume and a stick in her hand and a large dog. And she would come to us every day and before she would arrive we had to wait for her three, four hours. From eight in the morning to eleven in the morning, we were called to the appell square without washing, without food, without anything. We had to stand there in the rain and snow and frost, that was all the same. Stand lined up, four or five abreast. The block trusty was inside the block, and waiting until she came. We had to stand, we couldn't sit down. We wanted to sit down even on that wet, muddy ground. But we had to stand at attention till Irma Grese came. Then she would come . . . She had once prohibited us to have anything on our head.
  • David Boder: What do you mean "anything on your head"?
  • Fela Nichthauser: A kerchief or some covering. Kerchiefs we really didn't have. Everything was taken away from us, but we had such little rags that were cut out from the blankets, grey blankets. It was fortunate the one could have such a little piece. And standing outside for hours, in the snow or in the rain one would throw such a thing over her head. We needed it. She had prohibited it. And these girls who were doing it would hide behind. They would not stand in the first rows, but in the fifth row behind. She could not count at a distance with her eyes. But she had to put on every head her whip. That is how she counted. One after the other.
  • David Boder: Did she beat you with the whip?
  • Fela Nichthauser: So, 1,2,3 [demonstrating the strokes] and nobody could move. And when she would notice that some of us would have that little piece of blanket on her head she would approach her immediately with a smile, and would tear down that piece of blanket with the person together . She would call her dog, not that the dog should bite, but just to terrorize. It was more terrible than being bitten.
  • David Boder: What would the dog do?
  • Fela Nichthauser: The dog would jump at the girl and gnash his teeth as if he was going to bite. She did not permit him to bite. She did not want it. She just wanted to horrify us. She wanted to cause anguish and terror and that was much worse. So she would throw down this blanket together with the person and kick [her] in addition and beat [her] with her whip. She should know not to do it again once it was prohibited. And then, afterwards, when she would talk to the blokova [Polish like word for block trusty] when she would talk to the block trusty, she would ask how many people there were, how many have died and so on, and show such a beautiful countenance, such a kind face. Indeed nobody could tell that just a moment ago she made such scenes and was so bad, that she could be so merciless to other people. As if we were somebody worse than the block trusties I can just tell you that the block trusties were not better. Before the war maybe they were selling onions and garlic on the streets. Now they were big personages in our lager. These girls, we, were really not any more human; real animals. People dragged down and down into the mud, once human, who have been going to universities and museums, something of the kind. I am not talking now about myself. I am now talking about the people who were not people any more. Before the war they really were human beings.
  • David Boder: You are talking about the prisoners?
  • Fela Nichthauser: The prisoners of course. We were not treated like human beings. They thought we were Jews, born, of course, in cellars somewhere, that we didn't have any mutti. We don't know what a white bed is! We don't know what good soup is! That is what they all believed. And I am telling you that the block trusties who ordered us around, were not different, they were worse than any of these girls, these children. What hurt us so badly was that they have but us at such a low level. When we wanted to go out we had to report, to ask permission to go out we had to stand at attention and say, 'Frau Lager Trusty', or leader, something of the kind, depending on who the SS woman was. It was up to her to say 'yes'.
  • David Boder: What do you mean, to go out?
  • Fela Nichthauser: Well, to relieve oneself.
  • David Boder: To the toilet?
  • Fela Nichthauser: To the toilet. If she was in a mood to say yes, all right. If she would say no we would have to go back. Nothing would help. They could make us do what ever they wanted. That means we continued in the block, lying on the filthy floor, no food, just waiting from morning till night, night till morning, just listening to the shooting.
  • David Boder: Where are now your parents?
  • Fela Nichthauser: My papa—when he was taken, we still had letters from him. I sent him packages. Afterwards his lager was Dachau and at that time all mail was already blocked. We couldn't write. We lost trace of him, we don't know anything about him. My mutti surely is not alive anymore. She was about fifty years old. My mother would have been now fifty-four . But she was in Auschwitz and surely is not alive anymore.
  • David Boder: Was she deported to Auschwitz?
  • Fela Nichthauser: Deported.
  • David Boder: Did you know about it?
  • Fela Nichthauser: A whole transport of the women has gone to Auschwitz. My older sister was with her husband in [name of locality indistinct]. During the war I still received some little mail and all at once that stopped and those horrible things were going on. Germans have murdered the people and I don't know anything about them till this day and that is already seven years. Eight years I haven't seen my sister. Neither my brother-in-law. Also my brother, a married one, he had a little boy two years old. He also was deported in 1942 from [name of locality indistinct] where he used to live and was sent away to the Ukraine. He is not alive any more.
  • David Boder: You don't know anything about the child.
  • Fela Nichthauser: The child was taken with them. The child was dragged along.
  • David Boder: Tell me, how were you freed?
  • Fela Nichthauser: I was liberated in Belsen on the fifteenth of April.
  • David Boder: Tell me about the day or the day before liberation. What happened there?
  • Fela Nichthauser: I can tell you, I haven't told you half of what I went through in Belsen. Believe me, I could not tell you as much about the three and a half years [of captivity] as about the few months I spent in Belsen. And about the people I have seen, as well as about myself. It is horrible; one cannot describe it in words because it hurts too much. I looked like a seventy-year old woman. I was unable to move. I was all run down, emaciated, unwashed for weeks, without undressing. In that one dress and coat I was lying on the floor. I wanted some water for a drink, I couldn't get it. I had diarrhea for two months and then I had typhus.
  • David Boder: You also contracted typhus?
  • Fela Nichthauser: Yes, naturally. I had a horrible typhus. I had diarrhea that I couldn't stay for a moment in the block.
  • David Boder: What was it, spotted typhus or intestinal typhus?
  • Fela Nichthauser: That was intestinal typhus.
  • David Boder: Where were you lying? In the hospital?
  • Fela Nichthauser: No, absolutely no. We were not being treated. When it was known that there are many people sick with typhus, they wanted it that way. Sure, every day a few soldiers would come in to see that the bodies were thrown out in front of the block.
  • David Boder: How many dead were there lying in front of the block?
  • Fela Nichthauser: They were not immediately transported to the crematories.
  • David Boder: What do you mean in front of the block? Weren't the dead people removed?
  • Fela Nichthauser: Yes, there were four special women. Four Hungarian women whose job it was to do it. When a woman would die, that was immediately reported. The four women who received a bit of soup for it, because they were still reasonably strong, would take a grey blanket, put the dead person on the blanket and throw her out in front of the block. And so these bodies would lie sometimes two weeks—sometimes two weeks, sometimes three weeks, till there had accumulated fifty, one hundred, two hundred dead, till there came the Jews, men under guard, and transported them to the crematory. And often I, when I would pass the crematories . . .
  • David Boder: You mean to say the dead ones were lying there many weeks outside?
  • Fela Nichthauser: Yes, they were lying there with nothing on. Often I would pass the crematory because at night we had to fetch these kettles with soup; every day there was another shift. We passed the crematories and we saw mounds and mounds, it was unbelievable, of dead, of dead with thom the crematory could not keep up. There were mountains of dead, and from the air came all the sickness, these typhus diseases swept through the lager where people lived, where thousands and thousands were still moving around. People went out to pick up some potato peelings, they went around begging for something. There was cooking going on in the kitchen and one could come and beg for a bit of soup. So one would see all those terrible things.
  • David Boder: And so who freed you?
  • Fela Nichthauser: The English. In April, when we didn't expect it at all. We didn't expect any liberty. We absolutely did not know that liberation was so near. And it comes to us. We didn't have any contact with anybody. All at once we saw the SS men and the SS women carrying white bands on their arms.
  • David Boder: What does that mean?
  • Fela Nichthauser: Armbands. That means—they surrender.
  • Contributors to this text:
  • Transcription : Dagmer Platt
  • English Translation : David P. Boder