David P. Boder Interviews Leon Shachnovski; July 29, 1946; Paris, France

  • David Boder: [In Russian] What is your last name?
  • Leon Shachnovski: My last name is Shachnovski.
  • David Boder: And your name and father's name?
  • Leon Shachnovski: My name and father's name is Leon Moiseievich.
  • David Boder: Leon Moiseievich. Now then Leon Moiseievich, we are today here in Paris, on the 29th of July, the day of the Peace Conference. Tell me Leon Moiseievich, when did [you] leave Russia?
  • Leon Shachnovski: I left Russia a very long time ago. I left Russia in '41.
  • David Boder: Oh, that is not very long ago. That means you left Soviet Russia.
  • Leon Shachnovski: Yes from Soviet . . . I left Soviet Russia.
  • David Boder: Now . . . was Russia then already at war?
  • Leon Shachnovski: That was . . . yes that was already at the start . . . the 22nd of June the war started and then the Germans quickly took over Kovno; in two days they rounded us up and deported [us] to Germany.
  • David Boder: Oh, that means you did not run away from Russia.
  • Leon Shachnovski: No. I did not run away from Russia.
  • David Boder: Aha . . . .
  • Leon Shachnovski: The Germans have deported me by force. And all the time I worked in various concentration camps, rambled around through Germany until the Americans liberated us in the year '45 on the 22nd of April.
  • David Boder: Aha. Now let us start a bit in order. The Germans took Kovno and what about you? They arrested you, took you prisoner?
  • Leon Shachnovski: It was like this. Before . . . The war started the 22nd of June, that was on Sunday, no on Saturday over Sunday . . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Leon Shachnovski: Sunday afternoon, and mostly Monday before noon. The Lithuanian Partizans who fought on the side of the Germans had occupied Kovno, before the Germans marched into Kovno. These same Lithuanian Partizans went after the retreating Red Army soldiers and fired at them.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Leon Shachnovski: The Germans appeared only on Tuesday. And so we remained in the city until the 15th of August. On the 15th of August there was issued and order, that we were [all] to assemble . . .
  • David Boder: Who were those we?
  • Leon Shachnovski: All we Jews living in the city of Kovno, have to abandon said city. They fenced in for us the section, and transferred us into that section.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Leon Shachnovski: This section was called the ghetto. We stayed in that ghetto. I personally, at once, during the first months was deported with others to Germany.
  • David Boder: Oh, Now who did they deport?
  • Leon Shachnovski: That was a small group of people of five hundred fifty people. The majority have perished [he speaks very fast] probably only a few have remained. From all those who were then deported I have not seen a single person until this day, because we afterwards were dispersed over different lagers. I afterwards happened to get here [!!] in Dachau, that is near Munich, and from Dachau I "went over" to Augsburg. My last lager was Augsburg. I worked at Messersmith, a factory of airplanes.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Leon Shachnovski: And there the Americans have liberated us [word not clear]. All that I went through during this time, is impossible to narrate briefly. I only may say that I suffered badly, because I have lost all my family. My father and mother, the Germans have shot in '41. Under my own eyes, in 1941, on the 28th of October. Under my own eyes.
  • David Boder: How did that happen? In Kovno?
  • Leon Shachnovski: That happened when we were still in the ghetto. They led out part of the people, then they . . . we were about thirty thousand people, they pick twelve thousand from the ghetto. and shot them on the spot from a machine gun not far from our ghetto. They compelled them at first to undress, to take off their clothes and to hand over their clothes.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Leon Shachnovski: [A pause]. They . . . and they were shot.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Leon Shachnovski: Nearly all of us saw this so called action, which they executed.
  • David Boder: Now in one day, they have shot all at once, twelve thousand people?
  • Leon Shachnovski: Twelve thousand people were shot in the course of a single day.
  • David Boder: And who buried them?
  • Leon Shachnovski: There were prepared beforehand excavated ditches. They stood at the ditches, and fell into the ditches. The were lying in the ditches one over the other and patrols, Lithuanians and Americans [a slip of the tongue] passed around and if one of them was still alive, they finished him off with a revolver.
  • David Boder: What are you saying? Americans?
  • Leon Shachnovski: Excuse me, please. I meant to say German patrols.
  • David Boder: Yes. It's all right. You slipped . . . [laughter]
  • Leon Shachnovski: Yes.
  • David Boder: Now tell me, the others were left alive?
  • Leon Shachnovski: The others were left alive, and the next day, all of them, as if nothing had happened had to go out to work, and to continue with their day's work.
  • David Boder: What kind of work were they doing? What kind of work were you doing?
  • Leon Shachnovski: We worked thus. We were sent in groups to all kind of work. The largest group was the one of one thousand men which used to go to work on the airdrome. The Germans were reconditioning the Kovno [?] airdrome. They intended to remodel it, to make of it a most modern airdrome. Besides, as it was told, there was to be a school for pilots of so called dive-bombers. And so on this airdrome were working Russian prisoners and we. The Russian prisoners were kept in desperate conditions. Much worse [again a slip, he says "much better"], they were absolutely not considered as human beings.
  • David Boder: You mean "much worse," you mean.
  • Leon Shachnovski: Much worse.
  • David Boder: [in a low voice] you said "much better"
  • Leon Shachnovski: Yes.
  • David Boder: That is all right, go on.
  • Leon Shachnovski: [He is confused] I did not say it correctly—"much worse," under worse conditions than we. They lived under sheds [roofs on pillars without walls] completely in the open.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Leon Shachnovski: Under sheds, completely in the open. They were not permitted to wash. They were given for dinner and obviously for supper—I did not see it, I only saw their dinner—a kind of black "muddy fluid," and a little piece of bread. That is all that they were getting. They were given inhuman treatment. For every move, for every word they were beaten mercilessly. They were beaten—the sick who could not properly walk or move the way the Germans wanted were on the spot beaten to death by the Germans with clubs. We . . . it was impossible to look at such treatment.
  • David Boder: And from there you were afterwards sent . . .
  • Leon Shachnovski: I personally got afterwards into Germany, spent much time in various lagers.
  • David Boder: What do you mean you got there? You were sent . . .
  • Leon Shachnovski: I was sent to Germany, deported to Germany.
  • David Boder: Yes. And afterwards you were sent where?
  • Leon Shachnovski: First they sent me to Stuthof, this was a lager near Danzig.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Leon Shachnovski: From there I got to Dachau. Dachau had a large number of so called outside lagers. In which I also worked.
  • David Boder: And what is an outside lager?
  • Leon Shachnovski: There the concentration camp had special sub-branches, various different lagers. That was . . . let us suppose that some factory, or construction job is located in the same region as the main lager. In order to send people to work there, they built little lagers not far, within say three, four or ten kilometers of such a factory or such a construction job. These people then lived in those little lagers and were going to the construction jobs; to work, to construction jobs, or to the factory.
  • David Boder: Now tell me, did they feed . . . how did they feed in Dachau, the people who were working?
  • Leon Shachnovski: They fed us variously. In the morning we got coffee, so called coffee. Because it was not some real coffee but some kind of a black "muddy fluid" [burda].
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Leon Shachnovski: Then, for dinner we used to get three quarters of a liter of some kind of cooked soup. This was sometimes with potatoes, sometimes with cabbage, somethimes with something else. Meat there was nearly never.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Leon Shachnovski: In the evening we could get again a bit of coffee, again some black "muddy fluid." With it we got bread. The bread rations varied. They, at the beginning the ration . . . [word not finished], that is, at the beginning we were getting five hundred grams, and it reached to one hundred and fiftey grams of bread a day. It varied greatly.
  • David Boder: So . . . and where did you work. What did you work on in Dachau?
  • Leon Shachnovski: I personally . . . .I personally as a specialist technician endeavored to work all the time in some kind of shops. In this manner I saved my life; by being able, possessing a certain trade, I could from time to time work in the shops. In the shops the work was easier because it took place under a roof, it was not in the open air, [he coughs, that happens at times in other interviews when they speak of cold, or the gas chambers] while the majority had to work with a shovel, or spade, or with something else in the open air, in any weather, in snow rain, blizzards and the like. Many worked at concrete jobs, and there they would fall into the concrete, were buried alive in that concrete, they would get in . . . they were afterwards crushed by the machines, and would get in—and would become a component part of the concrete in the construction of many buildings, foundations and similar things. [The tales of workers being ground up with mortar which later would go into construction, or foundry workers falling into, or foremen being drowned in molten steel which was then used for the casting of cannons—were current in Europe since olden times. This does not diminish the veracity of certain reports on such incidents—but may rather stimulate plans of atrocities or vengeance. —D.P.B.]
  • David Boder: How would they get into the concrete?
  • Leon Shachnovski: Simply so. They were thrown into the pits, into the machinery, I personally have not seen it, so I cannot tell you exactly, but I know about such facts, when they were simply thrown down where the concrete was prepared in those machines, and they were crushed to pieces together with the rocks and concrete.
  • David Boder: Now then. That happened in Dachau. And how long were you in Dachau?
  • Leon Shachnovski: I was in Dachau from the year '42 to the 45th, because all the other lagers, even the one where I worked with Messersmith, were all under [the jurisdiction of] Dachau. Although it was far from Dachau, it was considered nevertheless a branch of Dachau.
  • David Boder: Now then, would you travel every day to work?
  • Leon Shachnovski: No, I have explained already before that we were located in various buildings, in barracks which were erected not far from the place of work.
  • David Boder: Oh, but it was all under the authority of Dachau?
  • Leon Shachnovski: That was all under the authority . . . we were managed from Dachau. We were all registered in Dachau . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Leon Shachnovski: I have all my documents in my possession from the Lager Dachau.
  • David Boder: Now tell me, were you paid anything for your work?
  • Leon Shachnovski: We were paid nothing.
  • David Boder: But I have seen, for example in the States, some kind of concentration camp money.
  • Leon Shachnovski: This was money . . . yes, this was concentration camp money, that is perfectly correct
  • David Boder: Well.
  • Leon Shachnovski: These were Aryan [moneys]. We Jews did not get them. But the Aryans were entitled to some kind of premiums. And then they were given these premiums, they received some kind of tokens.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Leon Shachnovski: And with these tokens they could buy something in the canteens which were in the lagers. We had no such privileges, so I can not tell you anything exactly about it. Moreover, not in the lager, but in the ghetto there was money. Say the Ghetto Theresienstadt had its own money.
  • David Boder: And where did you go from Dachau? Were you in Dachau up to the liberation?
  • Leon Shachnovski: From Dachau I got to Augsburg. And I worked at Messersmith's as I have told you before.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Leon Shachnovski: But Messerschmidt also was a lager of Dachau, it also belonged to Dachau, although it was approximately seventy kilometers from Dachau.
  • David Boder: I am very grateful to you [Mr. Shachnovski says something in a low voice, apparently apologizing for the slips of the tongue]. Oh, that is nothing, these are slips of the tongue. Thank you. I think if I get a travel permit, I will find you—you are where, in Munich?
  • Leon Shachnovski: In Munich.
  • David Boder: That is fine, now . . .
  • Contributors to this text:
  • Transcription : Olga Collin
  • English Translation : David P. Boder