David P. Boder Interviews Jacob Schwarzfitter; August 31, 1946; Tradate, Italy

  • David Boder: [In English] Italy, August the 31st, Tradate, a Displaced Person's community about 30 or 35 kilometers from . . . from Milano. It is a group of men, women and children which are here and being trained for eventual trip to Palestine. I have before me now a Mr. Jacob Schwarzfitter,and the interview begins with this gentleman.
  • David Boder: [In German] Now then Mr. Schwarzfitter, would you tell us again . . . would you tell us again, what is your name . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Yes.
  • David Boder: And how old are you?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: . . . how old?
  • David Boder: Yes. Nu . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: [In Yiddish] My name is Jacob Schwarzfitter, born in Olkusz [name not clear] the 29th of January 1916.
  • David Boder: So how old are you now? You are now . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: . . . thirty years and eight months.
  • David Boder: You are thirty years old . . . Now Mr. Schwarzfitter will you please tell me where you were, where did you live, when the war started, and what happened to you since then.
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: When the war started I was a Polish soldier. My active military service I spent on the battlefield. The 19th of September that is when the war was in its 19th day, I fell prisoner to the Germans. From there I was taken with many thousands of prisoners to Germany. From there I was taken with many thousand prisoners of war to Kutno, and they held us in a small building, five thousand prisoners of war crowded in. Without water, without the least sanitary requirements. Bread we got—hundred fifty gram [about 5 oz.] a day. We were given a bit of bran, and without water, without salt. That was the treatment [the fair]. [Footnote 1: He endeavors to speak German, or possibly his Yiddish has become altered due to prolonged contact with Germans. This leads often to an inappropriate choice of words. —D.P.B.]
  • David Boder: Were there Polish soldiers also with you, Christian soldiers.
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: There were with me together also Christian soldiers. From there we were delivered to Germany.
  • David Boder: Now what happened then?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: In Germany after six weeks as war prisoners we got for the first time some water to wash up a bit. The conditions were very bad. Soon they started to separate the Jews. We were eight Jews in one c mpany among thirty thousand military prisoners. I was [sentence not clear]—Polish Stalag A, at Altengrube, at Magdeburg. There we vegetated for a hard six months.
  • David Boder: What does it mean—vegetated?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Vegetated means we led a hard, bitter life. After six months, not according to our desire, but on the desire of the Wehrmacht, all Jews which belonged to the regions occupied by Germany had to be returned. And we were shipped home. En route—we were "discharged" in Lublin. There they took off literally everything from all the military prisoners. The boots which I had because I belonged to the artillery were pulled off my feet. The overcoat, the coat, nothing was left but the pants and underpants, so they left me stand. Without a shirt. Winter. That was the second of March, 1940. There the custody was taken over by the Wehrmacht, SS, which was assembled from among the youth of Polish hoodlums and skum. There were youths of sixteen, seventeen years [of age], who did not know how to load the arms, but they knew how to shoot. And many were in that way murdered by them. There the conditions were exceptionally bad. Each day appeared like a year. After spending eight days in this lager, I arrived home. At home I still found everybody alive. But every Jew was already wearing the all-known Jew-star. There were already streets on which Jews were not permitted to walk.
  • David Boder: What was the name of your [little] town, where you had come.
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: I had come to my [little] town Olkusz. That's my place of birth. There I remained until the evacuation [depopulation] of the town. Before speaking about the depopulation, I shall narrate, report one incident. On the 31st of July 1940, there took place a punitive expedition against my town. On an early morning at four o'clock, at daybreak, on a Wednesday, the whole town was aroused from sleep and put on its feet. And all men without distinction, Jews, from sixteen to fifty years of age, were taken out to various squares. They were taken out by the Gestapo. A few thousand Gestapo.man arrived, in a town which had a population of only about fifteen thousand, and they started punitive expedition.
  • David Boder: Why was there a punitive expedition?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: The punitive expedition took place because sixty dilometers from the city were murdered by bandits two gendarmes. But they felt it useful to make of it a political incident. And it was ordered to make responsible for it the peaceful [civilian] population. We were led out at daybreak, with our hands up, they jabbed us with bayonets and we were compelled to run. When we arrived at the square, we had to pass a cordon. On both sides stood SS men, with [metal] rods, belts, rubber truncheons, clubs, [?] and they beat us. Every one had to go through. People went through the cordon, and emerged covered with blood.
  • David Boder: Women too?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: No women. Women were not taken, that time, only men. Then afterwards each had to show his fingerprint. After giving his fingerprint [it is possible that they had to surrender their identification cards which bore a single fingerprint] each one was tripped from the front over a leg a thrown down to the ground. We were made to lie on the stomach, the face deeply pressed to the earth, with the hands on the back. So we remained lying until twelve o'clock. And the SS men were passing back and fro, and when it pleased him he trampeled [the person]. I personally was hit several times with the boot on the head. At twelve o'clock they came . . .
  • David Boder: Twelve o'clock noon?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Twelve o'clock noon, after lying for eight hours we were ordered to get up. Everyone was pale and black. Wo all looked like dead men. So there spoke to us a gestapo man in the Polish language, while another explained [interpreted]. That we are being treated most humanely, because they are still able to prove who is against God and against humanity. I and those others present, could of course, not understand that people could be treated still, worse, but that we have learned in the future.
  • David Boder: Now . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Afterwards he explained to us the reason for the event. It was because two gendarmes were murdered. Among those present was a Polish 'prister' [the word was not clear, and caused a question].
  • David Boder: 'Prister' is what, a policeman?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: No 'Prister' is a priest, a clergyman.
  • David Boder: Oh, a [in German] 'priester'?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Yes. He explained among other things, that those here present are not criminals, that they are simply peaceful citizens. For that he was murderously beaten . . .
  • David Boder: Who, the priest?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: The priest, because he dared to say such a thing.
  • David Boder: Nu . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: And after . . .
  • David Boder: And the SS were Germans?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: The SS were Germans, and also many Folk-Germans.
  • David Boder: Yes. What do you call . . . What do you mean by Folk-Germans?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Folk-Germans, that means Poles who later had declared, saying that their forefathers, their grandmothers had something in common with German blood [ancestry].
  • David Boder: Yes . . . Nu . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Afterwards by two o'clock there came the moment when they ordered all the people to disperse. I want still to make one remark. When they came into our house, we had a scroll of the Torah [holy scroll].
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: And the SS man came and ordered to open the Torah, and then he asked us whether we still believe in God. So I asked him, why should one not believe? So he said, that at a time when so much evil is done to you, and nothing happens to us, so where is your God? So I involuntarily exclaimed—something will still happen to you.
  • David Boder: What did he say?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: He said, why doesn't anything happen to us [to the Germans]. So I said it will still come to happen.
  • David Boder: Nu . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: But he still left me alone. [It also could mean: he still left it—the Torah—with me]. That was on the thirty-first of July nineteen . . . 1941 [corrects himself]: forty.
  • David Boder: Thirty-first of July?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Thirty-first of July, 1940 . . .
  • David Boder: The war had started . . . in '39. Oh, the war was already in . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Yes, in '40th year.
  • David Boder: Yes. Now then . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Afterwards took place the removal of the 'town' to 'out of town', all Jews . . .
  • David Boder: The whole town—or only the Jews?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Yes, the whole town, the Jews [only] of course.
  • David Boder: The Jews . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: No, the Jews were removed 'out of town'. And they erected posters on both sides of the city, at the border [city limits], saying that the Jew who should dare to trespass without permission of the local authorities, will be sent to a concentration camp. And about the concentration camps we knew from hearsay, because the famous KZ Auschwitz was from us at a distance of about forty kilometers.
  • David Boder: Oh . . . , now tell me, you were taken 'out of town' . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Yes.
  • David Boder: What were there? Houses?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Yes, there were houses. They took the Polish population—out of the villages and into the town.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: And many . . . the better dwellings they requisitioned for the German population. [Here a few words, are not clearly spoken, apparently away from the microphone]. There we remained from the 15th—9th—1941, until the 11th of June, 1942. Then occurred the complete liquidation of the town. They arrived also at day-break, they woke us all and took us out, young and old. Nobody was spared. We were taken to a big center, where it stood written without any subtleness—'exterminatory action'.
  • David Boder: What?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Exterminatory action.
  • David Boder: And there they took you?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Yes. That means, that there they were to proceed with the action of the extermination of the Jews.
  • David Boder: Nu . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: We were not exterminated there and then, but it happened . . . they selected the better, stronger individuals. I had he great fortune to be picked as a slave for the Third Reich.
  • David Boder: Hm . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: And so then we departed, hundred and seventy-six people from . . . from this town, men, who . . .
  • David Boder: And the others?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: And the rest—fifty-four persons more went to the nearby city Bedzin, and the rest journeyed the road which was the end for millions of Jews. They were sent away from there to Auschwitz. I had . . .
  • David Boder: Bedzin, that is near Sosnowiec.
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Yes.
  • David Boder: Oh.
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: There still existed the Jewish Kehila [parish] [community council]. Our town was then merged with the Kehila [parish] of [name not clear] which belonged to our town, which is about thirteen kilometers from my town. And so was annihilated, one of the oldest Jewish Kehilas [parishes] in Poland. From there I was transferred to a lager, a transit lager, Dulag [abbreviation for Durchgangslager] which it was called in Sosnowiec. From Sosnowiec I was transferred on the 17th of June, 1942 to Blechhammer. There were the UHW works, that means Upper-Silessian Hydraulic Works. There worked up to sixty thousand foreign workers, among them three thousand Jews.
  • David Boder: Who were the other foreign workers?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: The other foreign workers were Frenchmen, Italians, Bulgarians, Rumanians, all nationalities. And Russians, Ukrainians, Poles, Czechs. There was a real tower of Babylon. [The words were not clear, hence the question].
  • David Boder: What does that mean?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Babylon—that means a mixture of languages.
  • David Boder: Oh, Babylon, a Babylon . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: A Babylonian . . .
  • David Boder: Yes, go on.
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: There I was going . . . walking to work, eight kilometers to work, and eight kilometers back from work. The work lasted ten hours. The work lasted ten hours. The work went on under a speed-up. They were driving [us] with clubs; with sticks we were hurried at work. There we got to eat four hundred grams of bread, twenty grams margarine, and a bit . . . a liter of soup, which was spinach, what they called it. Spinach leafs which were covered [?] with sand.
  • David Boder: What was the name of the lager?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: The lager was called Blechhammer.
  • David Boder: Oh. And the Works were . . . ?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: The Works were Upper-Silesian Hydraulic Works, they belonged to the government.
  • David Boder: Hm . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: There were also the Herman Goehring Works.
  • David Boder: Well . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: From there, after spending there seven weeks, I went over to a second lager. It was called [name not clear—Laue . . . ] and the conditions were still worse. That was in Upper Silesia. In Polish Upper Silesia. There we were under very hard conditions. Very bad food. Ordinarily [?] we were getting only two hundred grams of bread, and twenty grams butter and half a liter of soup.
  • David Boder: The butter was naturally . . . What . . . ?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: No, that was margarine butter, in a concentration camp there was no talk about real butter. That time it was not yet a concentration camp, it was a lager for compulsory labor. There at work I had an accident. I was hurt by a rusty bolt, that is a wheel with rusty teeth hurt my leg, and I got blood poisoning. In spite of that I was compelled . . . I suffered for six weeks. And my comrades took me to work [leading me] under my arms. And to work I had to go. If not, there was a place, and one was sent away to the famous lager Kozel.
  • David Boder: Hm . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Kozel too is in Upper Silesia, German Upper Silesia. There too, many transports were burned.
  • David Boder: In Kozel . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Kozel . . .
  • David Boder: That is not in Auschwitz.
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: No, Kozel.
  • David Boder: Aha . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: There were many lagers besides the famous lagers, which, so to speak were smaller.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: But they did not lag behind in their horrors.
  • David Boder: Well, what did they have there? Crematories, or . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Yes, a crematory . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Burned . . .
  • David Boder: What? Were they first . . . or what?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: First they were gassed.
  • David Boder: [Word not clear]
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: 'Everything' was gassed.
  • David Boder: Yes . . . Nu . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: From there, from that lager, I was transferred again to a second lager, [two words, not clear] being that I had a brother in Boguslav . . .
  • David Boder: Now you did not tell me anything . . . how large was your family?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: My family . . . at that time, we were five people. And besides, I myself had a wife and a child. And . . .
  • David Boder: How old are you now?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Thirty years old.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: And I have lost the wife with the child. The child was nine months old.
  • David Boder: Hm . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: I have lost them during the action in my town.
  • David Boder: Oh. Already, at the action in your town.
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Yes, at the action in our town. My wife also was supposed to go 'across' as I have told you, about the town, when some of us went over to Bedzin, but in the last moment, when I was already in the transit lager in Dulag . . .
  • David Boder: Hm . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: She was fetched for the action of annihilation.
  • David Boder: [Pause] Nu . . . [Pause]
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Being there, I got to know I had still a brother who was in the lager, block [?] twelve in the lager . . . Then my family—was lost . . . the whole family, except the parents and the brother and sister—who remained alive. The rest of the family, that is, I had two grandfathers, a grandmother, uncles, aunts, [?] cousins [males], cousins [females]—everything was annihilated in the process of the action.[Footnote 2: The sentence sounds most incoherent—a common situation when a KZ-victim is made to talk about his family. —D.P.B.] The parents—I subsequently went to a lager—I wanted to get over to the lager of Boguslav. Instead of Boguslav I was taken to a lager Vidal [? the word is not clear]. This was an extraordinary hard lager. Hard with the food. For food we were getting three hundred grams of bread, a liter of Canj [?] that is pumpkin soup . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Thin pumpkin soup, and we had to work very hard. He who could not work, could not satisfy the demands, which the masters [foreman] had demanded, was clubbed to death by the guards.
  • David Boder: And who were the guards?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: The guards were police guards. Those were SA men. Then we were yet . . . we were then in a camp of compulsory labor, not yet in a KZ.
  • David Boder: Hm . . . Not yet in a concentration camp . . . ?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Yes. That means it was not yet a concentration camp. The first lager to which we came was a compulsory labor camp, for Jews, especially. We went under guard to work, we were under guard at work, and under guard when we returned from work.
  • David Boder: And there were no Jewish block elders?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: These were there too. The Jewish block elders were of various kinds. One was a good one, and one was better. We also often . . . frequently would give away the cigarettes which we were getting, as a bribe [??]. Some of us still had hidden money from home, which was most strictly prohibited, so we purchased additional cigarettes, so that we could buy off the guards, so that they should not so harden our years [mistreat us] at work. In that lager if one could not work, he was given "fifty" [blows] with an oxtail [?], on the naked body. And in the winter he had to strip naked in the greatest frost, jump into a barrel of cold water, and he was gushed in the face from a hose. Most of them died by tomorrow or the next few days.
  • David Boder: Now let us clear that up. Those who were beaten were compelled to jump in cold water . . . ?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Yes.
  • David Boder: . . . or these were different punishments.
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: No, no, no. The same who was beaten, was showered, was given a shower. And there, the lager leader was taking great pride . . . he said he was from Auschwitz and he took great pleasure [??] in it. For instance, in the winter we had to make fire in the oven, but so that, God forbid, it be warm [in the block].
  • David Boder: You did not have to make fire . . . ?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Yes. We had to make fire, but it should not be warm. That was impossibility. And in this manner entire rooms, and afterwards blocks, were taken out and publicly whipped. In this lager . . .
  • David Boder: Now what did they want? The oven should be fired . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Yes, and the oven should not get heated. That was only done in order to torment us.
  • David Boder: Nu . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: And in this manner . . . day after day they would take people and beat them. And then [word not clear] there were unfortunately such people who fell in disfavor to the great gentlemen, and they beat them constantly. So we agreed among us that we shall go with a proposal, that daily ten men will report for beatings to sooth their bestial instincts, and to request, that in a lager of seven hundred people, that on every seventieth days each one would be beaten, and not to beat day in and day out the same people, with the result that they were being beaten to death. Of course, he rejected the proposal. From this lager, where there were seven hundred people, there remained approximately hundred and three people at the time of the liquidation of the lager.
  • David Boder: And when was the lager liquidated?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: The lager was liquidated when all camps of compulsory labor were liquidated and transferred from the SA, to the SS, to become concentration camps.
  • David Boder: When were the camps of compulsory labor liquidated?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: The compulsory labor camps were liquidated in 1944.
  • David Boder: Hm . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: In 1944. I went over [to the KZ] much earlier, in 1943, and I encountered there my brother, and there took place the further selection. There we stood before a committee of the SS, which picked out the strong ones and sent away the weak ones to be 'melted down', as they called it.
  • David Boder: Did they themselves call it that?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Yes. Melting down.
  • David Boder: The SS?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: The SS called it that. Then we remained in the lager, first eight hundred Jews, and in general we remained five hundred Jews together. Afterwards there were added Jews from Bunzlau, from Bunzlau. Afterwards there also arrived a transport of Jews who were Hungarian Jews. They came to us the 5th of June, 1944. Our KZ was dissolved [?] the 9th day of May, 1944. [The apparent disruption of continuity is his own]. There [?] life was still somewhat tolerable. We had a good cavalry commander, that is we had an SS man who was in a compulsory manner, dragged over from the old guard regiments into the SS. He did not permit any chicanery. This lasted until the start . . . until the start of the offensive from the East. With the forward push of the Russian troops, when they arrived on the other side [??] of the Oder, . . . then they started to evacuate our concentration camps. We left the eleventh of February, 1945. We left under the roar of cannons, the shouting of the Russians. The Russians already fired over the city. A few hours later the city was occupied. But we have been already led away by the SS. En route, the first few hours were rather quiet. We stayed overnight fifteen kilometers from the town in the nearby village. There a few men tore themselves away from our column. The second day, again, a few people . . .
  • David Boder: What do you mean, they tore themselves away . . . ran away?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: They hid themselves. They concealed themselves, at any rate, remained behind, and afterwards, in a few days they were liberated.
  • David Boder: Hm . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: The second day it was also successful . . . the third day a larger number already attempted to hide, life was bitter, the conditions became worse, there was no food, the cold . . . These hid themselves; more than a hundred people. That became conspicuous. Then they started throwing hand grenades into the barns. That means, at those who slept in there [?] and they shot with machine guns, and there fell twenty-two people from among us.
  • David Boder: Did you, too . . . were you, too, hiding?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: No. I was not among the hiding. And so remaining . . . the rest of us were to be shot, because of . . . all of us [?]. And at that instant arrived the commander of the lager who I mentioned before [the cavalry man] and he . . . he was the only person who saved us at that instant.
  • David Boder: Nu . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: He did not permit, . . . he got angry, on account of their having such a thing. And he told us still one thing: 'You are not cunning Jews' [the narrative becomes somewhat incoherent]. That is the manner in which we got away. At that moment [when] he saw that the Russians were near,—'we could not have done anything to you'. I don't know, maybe it was a ruse to say no, but in spite of that, he was not a bad . . .
  • David Boder: Hm . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: . . . person.
  • David Boder: Nu . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: From there, we marched on for another six weeks . . .
  • David Boder: Marched on foot?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Marched on foot six weeks, without interruption.
  • David Boder: Well, and if someone was unable to go on . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: On the road . . . people who were . . . people got sick of pneumonia and died. We got no medical care. People who dared to jump aside into a field [I am not sure of the word—possibly in Hebrew] . . .
  • David Boder: What is that?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: That are, such fields [?] of potatoes or carrots, pulling them out—he was shot.
  • David Boder: Hm . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: And on the road there fell also an uncounted number of people simply because they were shot. We arrived in the famous lager Nordhausen . . . [one word not clear].
  • David Boder: Hm . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: After a six week's march. Upon arrival . . .
  • David Boder: How many were there . . . ?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: We arrived five hundred and forty-one persons . . .
  • David Boder: All Jews?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Only Jews . . . we were solely Jews. We arrived five hundred and forty-one . . .
  • David Boder: Now, how it known [exactly] five hundred and forty one . . . ?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: I know it because we were counted, because when we entered into the lager, the number was announced as to how many there were of us.
  • David Boder: Aha . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: The number announced was five hundred and forty one prisoners.
  • David Boder: Nu . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: That's how we were counted. When we arrived in the lager . . . in the lager I stayed no more than about three days. There they burned a crematory . . . but the lager was clean.
  • David Boder: Clean?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: It was clean there. From this lager I was sent away to a farther lager; nine kilometers farther . . . the name of the lager was called Allrich [?] in the Harz.
  • David Boder: Nu . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: There the lager was an extermination lager. The lager had existed about a year's time. Among the nine thousand inmates, there died daily about two hundred people.
  • David Boder: What from?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: From . . . no eating, from beatings, from shootings. Two hundred people day in and day out, and many more, There was not crematory. Instead of a crematory there were piles of wood and cadavers. Wood and cadavers were piled up [in layers], tar poured over it, and set fire to. And that burned the day long, smoldering [?] day in and day out. And the work at it was done, of course, by prisoners.
  • David Boder: Now tell me [??]. When they had burned there in the pits, what was done afterwards?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: When? With the rest? The ashes were sent away . . . ,thrown away . . .
  • David Boder: And they used the same pits again:
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: There they made no pits. Burned on pires.
  • David Boder: Ah . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: The pires were burned down. The wood with the people. And day after day . . . there was a special work detail, which had to do this work. After arriving at this lager . . .
  • David Boder: How high were these pires:
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: The pires were . . . there were special ladders to climb up. They were of a height of fifteen, more than fifteen meters. And laid out four by three [??]. All those who died were all those who were called the Mussulmen, in the common language.
  • David Boder: What is a Mussulman:
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: A Mussulman means literally like a skeleton. That is a Mussulman. Thereafter entering the lager . . .
  • David Boder: Do you know why they were called Mussulmen?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: I don't know, there is no answer. They were laid out . . . that is what they were called—Mussulmen. There I also met a single Hungarian Jew, who told me that he is already in the lager eight months, and he is the only one who remained there from a transport of over nine hundred Jews. So I asked him what happened, what was the cause that he remained. So he explained to me. For six weeks he still has been working. At mealtime they gave there four hundred grams of bread, but the bread was full of sawdust mixed with wood shavings. So he explained that after six weeks he did not work anymore, but the block-elder would write down that he had gone to work, and he would give to the block elder hundred and fifty grams [of his bread ration].
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: And on the two hundred and fifty grams he lived, and was lying all the time in bed. And so on [??] So I asked the man, how he can stand it. He looked well past fifty years. So he explained to me that he . . . that he was all together only twenty-three years [of age], so badly that he had . . .
  • David Boder: Did he have a beard:
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: No, no beard. Shaved, we were shaved once a week.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: They shaved with hard . . . tempered knives, they shaved . . .
  • David Boder: . . . they shaved . . . Nu . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Water for washing was not available. To sleep—we had to sleep in our clothes.
  • David Boder: In clothes?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Yes. When we entered that lager we were a bit more presentable and dressed, that means, cleaner, in spite [of the fact] that we have not . . . not washed for weeks. You can imagine the way conditions were there [?] if we were called the clean ones.
  • David Boder: Nu . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: All the time that we were on the construction job, we proceeded to work [??]. We worked then in the caves [galleries], caves, that means . . . we chopped through tunnels, and there work was done on 'falling' weapons.
  • David Boder: Hm . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: We were . . .
  • David Boder: The falling weapons . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Yes.
  • David Boder: The flying bombs?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: The flying bombs were manufactured there. We arrived at that lager exactly on the eve of Pesach [Passover] . . . in that lager.
  • David Boder: In what year?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: In the year 1945.
  • David Boder: Hm . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: We were led into a block. A block—a pigsty. There were beds, they called it beds, nailed together of two boards crosswise. And on such a contraption [?] a life [?] contraption [?] had to lie four prisoners.
  • David Boder: What do you mean by two boards crosswise?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: That means it was . . . the bed was built like a cross, two boards laid crosswise . . .
  • David Boder: Oh, now show me, how was that . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: A cross, a [word not clear].
  • David Boder: Nu . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: And that way we had to lie.
  • David Boder: And how many people?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Four people.
  • David Boder: Oh . . . Oh, oh . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: When we have . . .
  • David Boder: . . . they were lying from the center outward . . . ?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Yes. Afterwards we were lying like valets, [he uses the French word for knaves] like [playing] cards . . .
  • David Boder: Like what?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: That means on one side . . .
  • David Boder: Like [playing] cards, like the cards. On the one side [extreme] a head . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: . . . a head and on the other side a head.
  • David Boder: Yes. And where . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: And to turn over, lying on the back we were unable, but [and] we had to lie on our side.
  • David Boder: Hm . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: And when one wanted to turn over, that had to be done on general command [order].
  • David Boder: Now a question. Were they long enough . . . ?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: No, no, no.
  • David Boder: . . . to stretch out the feet?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Yes, to stretch out the feet they were long enough.
  • David Boder: Yes, but not . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: But narrow, but very narrow.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: One would ask himself, why sleep? So they said, 'No, you must sleep.' and that was that [??]. Food we were getting according to our identification number.
  • David Boder: Hm . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: I had the identification number 120569. That was already the second identification number [he uses a special term—that accounts for the question].
  • David Boder: What do you mean by Kenn-nummer?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: That means a number—every prisoner had his number.
  • David Boder: And why do you call it Kenn-nummer?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: That means, one should know.
  • David Boder: Oh, yes, to recognize . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: To recognize, recognition [erkennen] number, it was called.
  • David Boder: Nu . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: There, when one would receive that little piece of bread with the twenty grams of margarine, which one would get, he would receive it only under identification number.
  • David Boder: Hm . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: In addition, we would get a liter of soup. The liter of soup was of rotten potatoes, [two words, not clear] cooked without salt, just like for pigs. The eating pot was completely rusted through, no pig would be fed from such an eating pot.
  • David Boder: [for clarification] Rusted through . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Rusted through.
  • David Boder: Yes. Nu . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: There everyone . . . the block elder did not know anybody. Why? Because daily used to arrive new people. And from among the new people he picked me out [??]. When I arrived I observed the first case of cannibalism, that means, man-eating.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: There arrived a prisoner, back from work. He was led by his arms [he was supported by others]. And there came one and struck him with a blow. One from among the same prisoners.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: In my judgment, it was one of the Ukrainians.
  • David Boder: A Christian?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Yes, a prisoner. And he struck him with a blow, and so he killed him.
  • David Boder: Hm . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: So he took of his tunic on which he carried his identification number, and by this method he obtained his little piece of bread, instead of him. Another one pulled off his pair of torn shoes, and with his pants. And others came over, cut through the place of the heart, took out the heart, and the liver, and a piece of flesh on which there was still a piece of fat. They took it out, and raw, without cooking, they ate it.
  • David Boder: Were these Ukrainians?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Ukrainians.
  • David Boder: And Jews . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Jews did not do that.
  • David Boder: Hm . . . [See Note at the end of spool].
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: The Jews said they would sooner die than do that [words not clear]. In this lager it was most terrible. Early in the morning when the appel was made, we had to line up. And we had to take out the dead from the block, which were by the tens [analogy to by the dozens] in every block, and lay them out on the appel square, at every block. There were various kinds of dead. Clubbed, chopped, [people], with heavy suppurated wounds. Old wounds, and new wounds one could see. Because all . . . all who were carried out—completely naked. That is the way how they were carried out. Because the first of the prisoners, and the one who did not have . . . for instance, clothing, so he would take the rags [?].
  • David Boder: Clothing, things to wear:
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: . . . clothing.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: He would take the rags [?] and wrap the rags [?] around his body so that he should not feel [the cold].
  • David Boder: Hm . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: From there, after a week's time, we arrived again . . .
  • David Boder: [In English] This concludes Spool 93 of Mr. Schwarzfitter, and we will continue on Spool 94. This is taken in Italy near Como, in the lager Trad— . . . or in the cooperative living place in the Castle Tradate. Illinois Institute of Technology recording, Septem— . . . August the 31st, 1946.
  • David Boder: August 31st, 1946, in Tradate, near, between Como and Milan, a place for . . . a cooperative of Displaced People of nearly six hundred. This is Spool 94, a continuation of Spool 93, Mr. Jacob Schwarzfitter reporting.
  • David Boder: [In German] Now you remember, Mr. Schwarzfitter, where you were [in your story].
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Yes.
  • David Boder: Nu . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: [In Yiddish] In that lager, which I named before . . . In Allerich [?] in the Harz [?] we remained for eight days. That was because the lager was again evacuated, with the advance of the American forces, which had occupied then [the city of] Kassel. That was about ninety kilometers from Kassel. At that time [?] entire lagers were led out. The healthy [??] and the sick. All were led out, but the healthy were crowded ninety in each . . .
  • David Boder: Where . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: . . . in each railroad car, which was a fifteen-ton RR-car, a closed one.
  • David Boder: How many wheels per RR-car?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Four wheels . . .
  • David Boder: A small RR-car [Note: these are the old "forty and eight"—Forty men or eight horses].
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: But they were fifteen-ton [cars], so it was written on them, fifteen-ton cars. The entrance had to be perfectly clear. There stood a little cot with a hay sack [hay mattress] on it, and there slept two SS men. And the capos were two professional criminals, Germans, who had to keep order. They were selected at the departure from the lager to be in charge of surveillance over us. Woe is to the man who falls under a master who was once a slave. With every order [??] they were beating us [??]. We were ordered to embark, to sit down on the floor, and one had to sit down next to the other. But it was impossible to sit . . . , to sit that way.
  • David Boder: Hm . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: When somebody dared to complain to a chief, then everybody was beaten. Nobody was spared among us. An incident once happened that, in spite of the fact haat we have seen so many cases of death, but I shall never forget that moment when a Jew was beaten, somebody was beaten, and he started saying Vida [the prayer of those who are approaching death].
  • David Boder: Hm . . . , in the RR-car.
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: In the RR-car. At that moment went through our mind the old memories. By that time we were not anymore human beings like we remembered from once at home, because all . . . , all that belonged to the past. But at that moment a man . . . , a man remembered [?] that once there was a home, [where] humans died like humans, and not under such conditions, and such circumstances. No food, no drink, were given to us. Not even swallowing [catching our breath?], standing up was permitted. And so we remained for five days.
  • David Boder: What does it mean? Why did they not permit to swallow?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Nothing. One could not. They were beating, pushing one another. It was an impossibility to swallow [to breath?]. The thirst was so strong . . .
  • David Boder: The what?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: The thirst . . .
  • David Boder: The thirst . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: The thirst, the thirst . . .
  • David Boder: The thirst. [Footnote 3: Note: Such repetitions indicate that the interviewee did not pronounce the word clearly, or used an unfamiliar word or term. —D.P.B.]
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: The thirst [only now the word became understandable due to context] was so strong that people drank their own urine.
  • David Boder: Was that really so?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: That was really so. And people got sick of the so-called sickness of the rose [erysipelas].
  • David Boder: What is that?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: A rose . . .
  • David Boder: Tell it in Yiddish . . . , Yes a rose . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Yes.
  • David Boder: Oh!
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: . . . rose sickness. Very many. They had violent fever. Day in and day out; we were traveling [the train was in motion] three, four to five hours a day. The rest of the time we were standing on sidings [?], where we had to unload people who died. There happened to be in our RR-car stronger people . . .
  • David Boder: What do you mean by sidings . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: That means on tracks, tracks on the side . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Where there was no movement [of trains] of any kind.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: There they would stand. Those who had died were taken off, the . . . , the beaten to death, and we had to bury the people. That was our job. Daily the report-maker went through, to prepare the report on how many people were present.
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: My RR-car was designated as number seven. He daily inquired. The first day he asked: how many people counts this RR-car? The answer came: ninety. He said nothing: The second day it was asked again: how many [people] counts this RR-car? Again the answer was ninety. So he then replied so that everybody could hear: 'What, again ninety?' That was enough. Then came in the capos, the two professional criminals, and the two guards. And they started angrily to beat us, and they said, yelled, 'You damned Jew-band, you don't want to croak?' So they said: What, you don't want to croak when so many people are being buried day in and day out? And he presented a demand that for tomorrow there be at least six dead.
  • David Boder: How do you understand that? How can that be done?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Nothing. He says that people should murder among themselves. They demanded [four words not clear]. We agreed among ourselves that they may kill everybody, but none of us will raise his hand to murder any one of our comrades. And so it was, we delivered none. We were all beaten but we did not deliver, up to the last.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: And so we had all the time . . . Yes, they had water; but for us there was no water. A stroke of great luck happened to those . . . , who had the fortune, that the water in which the . . . , the SS men had washed their feet . . . And they would take the whole kettle with water and pour it out [on the people]. The one who had most water poured on him was the fortunate one. He could wipe a bit his face. And so I traveled for five days. The last day we arrived at the station of Bergen.
  • David Boder: Bergen-Belsen?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Bergen-Belsen.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: There we had to abandon two of our comrades who were weak. We wanted to take them with us, we had still two kilometers [walk] to the lager. But they said that these people will come in automobiles. And so they are 'coming' to this very day.
  • David Boder: You had to leave them in the RR-car?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: We had to . . . , they were taken out of the RR-car. We had to leave them on the platform.
  • David Boder: At the rr-station?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: At the rr-station . . . , and we had to leave them . . . It was a freight station, not one for people, for freight. And so we were driven. We went over to the lager, the few people who had remained. There they did not survive. Because at that instant, I shall tell you now further what has happened. At the instant when we were marching, I saw for the first time, after a lapse of three years,—Jewish women, parents, Jewish men and children. Those were interned Hungarian Jew. They were sent away from the lager, and we moved into the lager.
  • David Boder: Where were they sent sway?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Where to?—I don't know. They went away. There [we] arrived—it was after five days [of travel] without having eaten, without having to drink.
  • David Boder: When was that?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: That was the ninth of April, 1945.
  • David Boder: Let me tell you, many of those [Hungarians] were sent to Switzerland.
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: That I don't know. It is possible.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: But that was the ninth of April, 1945.
  • David Boder: Nu . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: The first morning, that was on a Tuesday, the tenth of April, we had the great fortune to get for twelve people one bread of 1,200 grams. For twelve people that means one hundred grams of bread per person. After six days without food. There was no water. It was specially blocked up.
  • David Boder: Why?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: . . . specially blocked up. And so was the bread. I shall tell you later, [for] the day when we were liberated [it] was poisoned, prepared for us. They wanted to exterminate us completely.
  • David Boder: Was that proved?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Definitely.
  • David Boder: Who has proved that?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: That was proved by the English themselves. There were two SS men, they were forced to . . . , to eat the bread. They ate it, and they became poisoned.
  • David Boder: They died?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: They died. They did not want to release their prisoners [?], but just poisoned them. And so after six days' time when we got that little piece of bread, and at night they took us into . . . , early in the morning when we arrived, that means on Tuesday, we noticed two large mieten, kupze [?] as it is said in the Polish language.
  • David Boder: What does that mean?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Mieten of rutabaga, where they are hidden.
  • David Boder: Aha . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: There were rutabaga. In this lager where I was, there were thirty thousand prisoners, of all nationalities. Emaciated . . .
  • David Boder: Again, what are mieten, describe them . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Mieten, those are . . . , when it was kept for the winter, . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: . . . for example, potatoes . . .
  • David Boder: Aha, cellars . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Such kind of cellars, but in the open field [apparently deep excavations in the ground].
  • David Boder: Aha . . . Yes.
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: And that was in the lager.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: It was near the block number 77. I was in that block, and from that block I was liberated.
  • David Boder: Yes. Did you there . . . ?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: There, when we arrived . . . , exactly across from my block vis-a-vis were the mieten. So then we went . . .
  • David Boder: The excavations [word not clear] . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Yes, but covered up. And they went . . . , thousands and thousands of prisoners, each one attempting to save himself, to hold over with a rutabaga.
  • David Boder: A rutabaga is a briukva [Russian Yiddish equivalent].
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: ? . . . , a briukva, yes. And nearby stood the SS men, and the Hungarian SS, DEMA [apparently a connotation for the latter] and they were shooting from machine guns, the prisoners, who were [would remain?] lying [dead?] at the mieten. They were dragged away . . . , and by the hundred, more than hundreds of dead were dragged away. We had to remove them. But that did not scare away anybody, because everybody say death before his eyes . . . On the same day we heard the first call of freedom in the distance. That is, we heard the thunder of the cannons of the English artillery. Each and every one waited with violent tension for the moment of liberation. And there took place a violent race. The race was between time and our strength, physical strength. Will we still be among those, who shall still live to the moment to be free men? When the long, longed-for free day arrived, the fifteenth of April, half-past two in the afternoon . . . Day in and day out we were longing that they should strike. When still, the same day was brought that little piece of bread, there were clashes [?] with the capos, with the SS, with the Hungarians, and everybody pushed forward, and grabbed the bread. One did not care that they were shooting. And then . . .
  • David Boder: Now what was going on?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Every day, when they brought bread . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: It was heavily guarded, [repeats in German] guarded . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: That it should not be 'taken' [by force, or stolen], and in spite of that people got to it, and grabbed the bread.
  • David Boder: Nu . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: One did not care . . .
  • David Boder: Nu . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: . . . for the danger to [his] life.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: And exactly at the moment, when one heard the rolling [?] of the English tanks into the lager, there arrived also, on the dot, a truck with bread, and a trailer.
  • David Boder: German?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Yes. And not a single man of the guards were present, and no prisoner dared to get near the bread.
  • David Boder: Why?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Why? The thought of the oncoming [?] liberation, somehow emerged by itself. We forgot completely that we were hungry, one embraced the other and started kissing each other. We yelled: we are free! They entered . . . first entered the vanguard, an automobile with loudspeaker [?]. He told us in all languages, announcing that we are . . . , that we are not anymore under the authority of the SS, but we are not permitted to leave the lager. First of all because there runs a dangerous epidemic of disentery, intestinal typhus, spotted typhus. Such was the day of liberation. On . . .
  • David Boder: What happened to the SS?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: There remained with us only eighteen SS men.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: The SS men were taken prisoners.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: And the professional criminals, the Germans who mostly served as capos, had to get out. The SS men were compelled to bury the . . . , their victims, their 'burned offerings'.
  • David Boder: Which ones? the . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: The Jews, the non-Jews, because there it was an international lager, Bergen-Belson. And they were compelled . . . , and the professional criminals were compelled to dig the grave.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: In every lager . . . , for example, I was in Nordhausen, I was in Dora [?] I was in Allrich, There was written on large rocks . . . , on a large rock was engraved: Work makes free.
  • David Boder: Hm . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: And we ourselves have: 'in the crematory number two and number three.'
  • David Boder: Well . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: [explaining] Now, work makes free . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: That was the slogan.
  • David Boder: And you . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: But we said, 'in the crematory number two and number three . . . '
  • David Boder: Nu . . . [I have heard this jingle before from other interviewees, and he apparently was a bit surprised at my matter-of-fact attitude].
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Now we got them. But . . . , then the English announced . . .
  • David Boder: How do you explain that the SS men were not killed?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: We did not kill them because they were soon taken prisoners. The English did not permit to harm them.
  • David Boder: Hm . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: But one thing that they had to do was work. They had to work, there.
  • David Boder: Now did you talk to some of them?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: With whom? With the SS? Here I want to tell about an incident that occurred with them. We [?] took them, with a heavy guard, with automatic pistols—they were led out to . . . , to bury their victims.
  • David Boder: Hm . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Two men, two SS men had to take one 'skeleton.'
  • David Boder: Hm . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: And they had to carry him fifty meters, from the mountain [of bodies] where they were, to the grave. There lined up a whole cordon of prisoners, from around and around, the heavy thousands of prisoners, and all like one started to yell: Work makes free. Take hold, now we shall work. And now kharakos [? this appears a camp lingo, possibly a Hungarian word brought in by the Hungarian SS. I writed the word "by ear"] Kharakos means run. And we started slapping [them].
  • David Boder: The SS men?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Yes, and beating [them]. And they worked. Many SS men have pleaded to be shot. Then came the same answer: 'You, too, have refused us a bullet. Why should we shoot you?' And so it was done. Afterwards the same SS men were led away to Lindenburg where took place the famous Lindenburg trial [? this word is not clear, and surely incorrect. It may be "Nuerenberg"].
  • David Boder: Hm . . . [Here for some reason there is a whisper:
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: May I still continue?
  • David Boder: Sure, go on./
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: And so it happened, when I got out from the lager, I met also one from my town, a boy who had also run away. I had run away from the lager.
  • David Boder: When?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: After the liberation.
  • David Boder: Oh, what does it mean, ran away?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: I had to run away, if not, the same danger would have threatened me that befell many thousands.
  • David Boder: Nu . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: The person who was not well was . . . , the person who was well was in great danger to get sick.
  • David Boder: Nu . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: And so I ran away, and I came to live in the environs of Braunschweig. In a few months, after a few months, I learned that I have come to find my sister.
  • David Boder: How did you live there?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: With a German.
  • David Boder: Oh!
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: With a German. He treated me very good and decently indeed.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Why? That was a German, he was.
  • David Boder: Germany was already liberated.
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Yes. Then it was already liberated.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: When I ran away it was the seventeenth, it was the twentieth of May. That is, it was already after the capitulation.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: But in spite of that, we were not let out. We were strictly guarded, but I succeeded in running away.
  • David Boder: Nu . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: After three months of liberty, I learned about my sister, that she also had survived and was in a lager Pers [?] Waldau [?/
  • David Boder: Where is that?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: That was in the direction of Breslau.
  • David Boder: Hm . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: I got together with her after four years of separation. She was, Thank God!, well . . .
  • David Boder: How did you find out?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: I came to know [about her] through a comrade, who I happened to meet. So he told me he had met my sister. So I said, how do you know, my sister. So he said, I have inquired. Because everyone always inquired. One always questioned the other when people would meet: haven't you seen this one, haven't you seen that one? Each and everyone inquired about relatives. And I was with this comrade in the same lager for a year [?]; he knew me quite well, so he gave me a 'call of life.' He transmitted to me regards, and he told me that my sister ought to be either in Weiden, or in Spandau, that is in the Upper Palatinate [Pfalz]. So I took a trip there and I got together with her.
  • David Boder: How did you travel?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: I traveled by train, I traveled without money.
  • David Boder: How come?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: The railroad was . . . , yes, railroad . . . , because we had no money. We had worked enough for the German National Railway. [A long pause, possibly an outside interruption]
  • David Boder: Now then . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: When I was behind the [barbed] wires, I only brooded—that one span of the wires can give me freedom [?]. Because I was from 1933 to 1937, I was in work training [?] for preparatory work, in Poland in a Kibbutz [work community for or in Israel, name not clear].
  • David Boder: Nu . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: And now sixteen months after liberation, we see how pale [feeble] the general sympathy is. It is possible that the major part of us, if they had known that that is how our liberation would turn out, would for sure not have wanted to struggle—so superhuman was the struggle. Because not only were we moved by the egoistic drive to desire to live, and to hold out. Because today, when everyone of us, and I, for example as well, when I should consider all that I have gone through, because it is impossible to tell about it in one hour, in two hours, in a week, it is impossible . . . , all the details I have experienced. But if today it would have come about to experience for one month, what I experienced during years, I should definitely not go through with it. Because we held out for the reason that we did not know what the morrow shall bring. And there we lived with the hope that the morrow will be better, a more beautiful . . . But, as a bitter death, we see that the morrow is still worse.
  • David Boder: What does that mean?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Still worse. For example, as the same [man] who was yesterday oppressed together with me, the Polish citizen—and today he persecutes us. And that is one like me, who was first to suffer; and suffered not only for ourselves. We have executed deeds of sabotage. How did we accomplish that? We did bad work. Various screws [the word was not clear] which we had to make, we have buried, hidden away . . . , and on that account . . .
  • David Boder: What was that? Various what . . . ?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Screws . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: . . . which were needed in the various constructions—we buried them, concealed in the earth.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: They disappeared. And we reported that we didn't know where they were. And on that account the whole works were stopped, you understand? In any possible way and manner we caused sabotage. And in spite of that the behavior of the world in general, is so unfriendly. Nowadays the despair is much grrater than before. Before we would say that only Germany is destroying . . . , destroying our life. Nowadays we know that we are liberated people. What do we have? We have nothing. I surely desire . . . , I desire to be repatriated, back to my own home. So the road is blocked for me.
  • David Boder: Why? How come?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Why? Because they won't let me in. They don't admit to the Land of Israel. [This was in the epoch of Cyprus, summer of 1946]
  • David Boder: Oh!
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: There is my old home, there.
  • David Boder: But you were never there.
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: There is my old home because everywhere a Jew is, he is told he is not at home.
  • David Boder: Oh!
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: And Poland is, of course, out of the question. Besides, there can not be any argument. In the instant when we, the people, I one among them, I have no confidence in the Democratic World. What does it mean, no confidence? In such and instant, when Germany, the most cultural land on earth, which was called 'The salt of the earth' [pronunciation not clear] was capable of such bestial deeds . . .
  • David Boder: Was called what?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: The salt of the earth.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Was capable to perpetrate such a great bestial deed against the Jews, against Jewery, of which he [Germany] is not ashamed at all, these grandsons of Torquemada [great Inquisitor in Spain in the Fifteenth Century] . . .
  • David Boder: Hm . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: . . . then we know that everything may happen. We expected that with the progress of Technology and Culture, such things would not happen anymore. And we say a contrary occurrence; that with the progress of technology and science the barbarism . . . , the barbarism of humanity progresses still faster. For that reason, and I shall take advantage of this opportunity, and want to say one thing. I understand very clearly that we enter a very hard struggle. The English Empire is surely stronger than we are. But we have a single weapon, the general satisfaction which is thus: that every people that rises against us Jews meets an evil end. Beginning with the Romans [word not clear], Babylonians, Greeks, Spanish, and also Zarist Russian and finally, Hitler Germany. And we are most surprised, that that second Jewish folk, England . . .
  • David Boder: Why do you call them the second Jewish folk?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Because they are the [lost] tribes.
  • David Boder: Hm . . . [If I understand him correctly, this refers to the legend about the lost tribes of Israel, who supposedly have migrated to the British Isles].
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: That they should be capable to go against us . . . And while at the time of the gravest moments of the war, we were [inside Germany] the only confederates who wished for the victory of the Allies. If we were unable to express it with deeds, so we did with our wish, there still are such [should that mean a mystic power?] . . . with our prayers, that England should win the war. In addition, so many, more than a million Jews have fought in the armies of the Allies. They fought for the same slogan that means Liberty, Equality, and Brotherhood. Add where is the Liberty, and where is the Equality, and where is the Brotherhood that was to come to us Jews? I want that the whole world should know. I understand that England had a giant ocean fleet, air . . . , air fleet, also strong ground forces. But what good are Armies, at the moment when we have the only strong army, of which I spoke before. We have the satisfaction, the historical satisfaction, that everything that impedes us must go. And besides, we have old rusty weapons. And the weapons of today, the sharpest weapon is called despair [word not clear]. We are desperate.
  • David Boder: What is it called, you say?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: We are desperate . . .
  • David Boder: But the word you used -
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Yoosh, Yoosh . . .
  • David Boder: In what language is that?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: That is in the Hebrew language.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: The Yoosh [despair] is with everyone. I understand that England plays a 'road uphill'. Only the weak will tear themselves away. All the weak have gone, they have committed suicide in the lagers . . .
  • David Boder: What did you say, does England want to do with the weak?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: She wants to take advantage of our weakness, that we should give up the intent to be . . . , to be an independent people.
  • David Boder: Nu . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: We know that no Declaration in the world can guarantee our peace and safety [??]. We had a fact last summer, that under the auspices of England in Tripolitania [Jews were murdered] for three days and nights without interruption.
  • David Boder: In Tripolitania?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Yes, and what guarantee do we have? Nowadays, Jews are being murdered in Poland. Lately [?] there was discovered a secret organization which had the task to murder Jews in Rumania . . . And everywhere, antisemitism is awake [?] a horror [?]. We know that the Land of Israel is [means] a hard life. Hard, much harder than we could have it being in America. But we want to be where we have our own bread. Because it does not exist, it is not worth the economic strength and the political strength. We have seen it ourselves. So, in Poland we also had rich Jews. And they went the same way as the poor ones. For that reason, you [the Americans] should help us, if there is still a certain measure of conscience in you, so we could build our own abode. We do not want to push aside anybody, [three words, not clear]. We want to transform the desert in good vineyards we want to create for ourselves a healthier future [?], a better future [?] for our people and for our generations to come, and to help to assure peace for all humanity [a long pause].
  • David Boder: Could you describe to me a bit the life here in the Hachshara [preparatory community]?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Here?
  • David Boder: Yes, describe it to me.
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Here, here we are in the town Tradate, and we are here more than four hundred Jews.
  • David Boder: Four hundred Jews. How did you get here?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: We . . .
  • David Boder: One moment. I am not through with you personally.
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Yes.
  • David Boder: Did you find your sister?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Yes.
  • David Boder: Now then . . . how did you get to Italy?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: To Italy I traveled . . . [there begins a whisper, he apparently wants the microphone removed, because there have been involved some activities of the Hachshara, which they refused to disclose, or at least, to have recorded]. From Italy . . . , from Germany I departed with a group. My [word not clear] . . .
  • David Boder: Wait a moment! How did you make up this group, who . . . ?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: The group was a Hachshara for the Kibuzim. They were gathered together.
  • David Boder: How did they get together?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: At various places.
  • David Boder: Hm . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: We journeyed.
  • David Boder: And how many were you?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: We were several tens of people. We got across. Several tens of people. We crossed the border.
  • David Boder: Which border?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: We passed, first we passed the German-Austrian [border], and after, the Austrian, the Italian.
  • David Boder: Oh!, you did not come through Switzerland.
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: No, we did not come through Switzerland. That means there are no more borders for us, as long as we deal with the attainment of our goal. We find the only hindrance, that is the sea. If the sea would not separate us from the Land of Israel, we should have been there long ago. But we shall overcome that too.
  • David Boder: Now then . . . You have come to Italy.
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Yes.
  • David Boder: And where did you go then? How did you find your destination?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: In Italy we were . . . , we were in Milano, we were in the environs of Rome. And now we are here.
  • David Boder: Who has sent you here? Who did . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: What do you mean, who? We have our key points which direct us. And now we are the soldiers of the Jewish people.
  • David Boder: But this place is supported by whom? By the Joint [JDC]?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: By the Joint and the UNRRA.
  • David Boder: And . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: We are waiting for the first and best opportunity, to be able to come . . . We do not recognize any illegal society [Aliya]. That means . . .
  • David Boder: What does it mean, no Aliya . . . ?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: We do not recognize any illegal Aliya; that means we go to the Land of Israel legally. We are from there . . .
  • David Boder: You do not travel legally?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: We do journey legally.
  • David Boder: Aha . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: We travel legally because from there we were repatriated [he obiously means expatriated].
  • David Boder: From where?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: From the Land of Israel we were expatriated [he says repatriated] one thousand eight hundred seventy-six years ago.
  • David Boder: Oh!
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: That is the exact time.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: We were repatriates [at present]. Just as Germany has dragged away Frenchmen, Poles, Czechs, and they do repatriate them to their countries, so do we want [to go] to our own country. Only there is our country.
  • David Boder: But.,
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: For this reason, for instance, I understand that for England we are considered 'illegal'.
  • David Boder: Oh!
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: But I shall enter my country legally. I do not come to take away [anything] from anybody. I come only to help, build, work. I am, thanks God, still well. I can work.
  • David Boder: And what do you think . . . , How long will you still remain here, now . . . ?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: It is not a question, how long. As long as it may be—the final goal is the Land of Israel. We have not put up any stipulations, and we do not make stipulations to the Land of Israel. Since it means [to come to] good conditions, I do not set any fixed date when to get there.
  • David Boder: Now let us see. It is being said that the UNNRA will be terminated in six, seven months. What then?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: So what: The UNNRA will terminate, we don't care! We have gone through the gravest moments. For us there is no worry what will happen tomorrow. The horror against hunger we have no more. We have a greater horror, that we may now . . . we had now a chance to be set free, and if we should lose the freedom, then life is not worth anything. It is purposeless, and purposeless is any struggle to live without freedom.
  • David Boder: And what do people do here all day?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: We learn 'Kikhot', we learn Hebrew.
  • David Boder: What is 'Kikhot?'
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: That means discussions. People discuss Jewish history, Zionist history, world history, we learn.
  • David Boder: Hm . . . And . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: And the time passes. We sing, we tell each other experiences [?] of the lagers. Because everyone has experiences to tell.
  • David Boder: Do you work in any way? Do you learn a trade?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Here there is no trade school.
  • David Boder: Why? Couldn't you bring in the ORT?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: I don't know.
  • David Boder: Did you request that trade schools be installed?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Here in Italy the Hachsharas,in general, are not organized as the ones in Germany. In Germany, for instance, there were agricultural Hachsharas and trade school Hachshara. Here we have come not to stay, here we have come to get away as soon as possible. We wanted to go straight ahead, to get to our final goal. But unfortunately, due to the occurrence of various obstacles [?] we had to remain. And we believe the time shall not be a long one.
  • David Boder: There are now here a few people from the Land of Israel. What are they doing?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Those people? They tell us about the life in the Land of Israel, they teach, they teach Hebrew, they lead discussions, Jewish history . . .
  • David Boder: Now, are there families in this place?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Here are families too. That means, the newly created families.
  • David Boder: Aha . . . And where are all these small children from?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Those are all those who were born right after the liberation.
  • David Boder: Oh! But there are here also children who are three, four years old.
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Oh! Those are older children who were in camps for internees, or from the Rumanian and Hungarian communities who were in the Ghetto. Because not all Rumanian and Hungarian Jews were led out.
  • David Boder: Oh!, and they arrived now?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: They have come now. Because the situation is there, too, a very tense one.
  • David Boder: Aha . . . Are these all people who have come from Poland already after . . . , after the war?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Yes, of course. All have come after the war.
  • David Boder: Yes. But do people leave Poland now?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Oh! Just lately! No, there are none here who have left lately.
  • David Boder: Ah . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: But now we know that large masses of Jews are fleeing on account of the pogroms which now take place in Poland. And about Italy letting them in [the last sentence was possibly said with irony]
  • David Boder: Did you hear that there are some Christians who came together with the Jews?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: There are no Christians . . . Yes, there are Christians, there are Italians . . .
  • David Boder: In this place?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Here, exactly, no. But there are Italians who have intermarried with Jews.
  • David Boder: Aha . . . And they are being accepted?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Oh, Yes! They are accepted. And there are also Russian women, and there are Polish women who have been hiding Jews. They hid them. And the Jews have married them.
  • David Boder: And they go . . . ?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Yes, they got to the Land of Israel. They learn now[?] Hebrew.
  • David Boder: Yes. Do you have here Jewish teachers? Do you have a Rabbi here?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: No. Here we have no Rabbi.
  • David Boder: And they are here not very Orthodox?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: No, here they are not . . . there is a block of about sixty people . . .
  • David Boder: Here?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: . . . who eat a . . . , have a separate chef and eat Kosher.
  • David Boder: Aha . . . , but the others don't?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: The others do not. The others cannot afford it.
  • David Boder: How come they cannot afford . . . ?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Because there are no facilities. And there are many who do not like to watch out for it [??]. They say that if they should come to a permanent [?] place, to the Land of Israel, they shall behave again as they once used to behave at home.
  • David Boder: Now tell me, in the lagers, what were the pious Jews doing, when they were . . . ?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: When, in the times of the KZ's?
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: In the times of the KZ's, for instance . . . , I happen to be a Jew who prays [observes regular prayertime]
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: So once they found on me a little prayer book [in Hebrew]. So I was given fifty strokes and a kick.
  • David Boder: For that?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Yes, for that. For that reason one would have to watch himself. And so I first prayed for a time from memory.
  • David Boder: Aha . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: . . . but God have mercy if one was caught.
  • David Boder: And on Yom Kippur [Day of Atonement] or Rosh Hashana [New Year's]?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: On Yom Kippur there was just nothing. It could happen that on Yom Kippur they would assign us to the worst labor. When they knew that there was a special [Sacred] Day they plagued [us] especially, still more.
  • David Boder: They would not allow to pray?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Oh!, prayer and such things were out of the question.
  • David Boder: Well, the Jews took with them their phylacteries, their prayer shawls.
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Whatever they took with them [of a religious nature] was all burned.
  • David Boder: Now what else did you want to tell me? [a whisper] Well, I think we shall conclude.
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Yes.
  • David Boder: [In English] This concludes Spool 94. This concludes number 94.
  • David Boder: [In German] Have you any relatives in America?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Yes, sure.
  • David Boder: Do you have the addresses?
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: I don't have the addresses.
  • David Boder: Aha . . . [In English] This concludes spool number 94, taken at Tradate, near Como and Milano. Mr. Schoer . . . Shw . . .
  • Jacob Schwarzfitter: Schwarzfitter
  • David Boder: . . . Schwarzfitter reporting. Recording of Illinois Institute of Technology. 125 volts, 50 kilo— 50 cycles.
  • Contributors to this text:
  • English Translation : David P. Boder