The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

The Dentist of Auschwitz

Chapter 9

My heart beat heavily when we passed Krusche at the gate. I had hoped never to see him again, and my wish was being granted. Yet I equally regretted leaving the people from Dobra, among whom we had lived all our lives. I knew that that chapter of my life was closed forever.

As the morning slowly brightened, I could see David Kot, Reb Moishe, Hershel Sztein, Josef Glicensztein, and a few others waiting to leave. Two of the SS men and some of the guards I knew, including Tadek, were at our side. Tadek told me we were going to Gutenbrunn, a camp like Steineck, but larger. This was a relief. "I will stay there with you," Tadek added. Tadek was a decent guard, and since I had kept my word, he trusted me. "Gutenbrunn is twenty-five kilometers away, and part of the same railway project," he said. This good news spread quickly.

It was finally day. The crowing of a rooster and the barking of a dog were the only sounds on the road as we passed a lonely farm. In front of us I saw Rachmiel, the cook, and Leibel, a jovial man who had often hauled grain for us in Dobra. I pictured the pasture near Leibel's house. Back when I was five years old, he would grab me in fun, and to be sure I wouldn't escape, he took my clothes away. Though I knew it was a joke, I did not like to be teased. I would beg him to give me back my clothes, and eventually he would let me go.

We reached a paved road, and walking became easier. We passed many Black Madonna statues. The sun appeared, and we knew we were going north. After we passed a sandy flat and a bare bluff, we saw a group of brick buildings. One was a small grocery. A few hungry chickens followed a farmer who was raking away the remnants of winter. Women holding half-naked youngsters appeared, silently staring at us. The villages in this region were all similar, indistinct places, nameless blurs along the road. But one farmer greeted us with "Heil Hitler!"

"Heil Hitler!" the SS men and some of the guards returned the salute. "Heil Hitler!" a passing bicyclist chimed in. All these "Heil Hitlers" had a bitter ring in our ears.

Outside the village were windmills. Further on we came to a dam, and beyond it were several barracks that housed Polish women. The barracks were unfenced. These people did not live as pariahs.

A few kilometers beyond, the SS men led us off the road for a rest. Later, at the next fork in the road, we turned right. Just ahead were some heavy cement buildings with a fortlike tower in the center. Coming closer, we saw four huge buildings set in a square, with a gate and tower in front, typical of the traditional German Junkers' and Polish counts' farm estates. These people ruled the farming industry in Poland, and the peasants held them in reverence.

We stopped at the entrance facing two armed sentries. Unlike the flimsy wire gate in Steineck, this one was of solid oak and joined two twenty-meter-long concrete buildings. Each building contained several small windows with iron bars strung across them. A rusty sign above the gate read "Gutenbrunn."

The SS men led us inside. Surrounded by the four massive buildings, the yard was dark. We had come to a farm. These buildings were once stables. At the far end of the yard I saw a gallows. It looked much like the one I had been lucky enough to escape. Here we seemed to be cut off from the rest of the world. In the center of the yard were two SS men surrounded by camp police. They were obviously expecting us.

One man dwarfed them all. He was very tall and had stern, catlike eyes. He looked at us with disgust. "What have we got here?" he asked. "A bunch of Mussulmen?" Because he wore civilian clothes without an inmate's patch, we did not know who or what he was. We were convinced he was a German. He was over two meters tall, had a square jaw, rosy cheeks, and large protruding lips. He wore black riding britches that were tucked into an officer's shiny boots. He wore a brown shirt and a beige sweater, and a woolen scarf was wrapped around his neck. His strange-looking hat could have been from the French Foreign Legion. As he strode about, surveying us with contempt, he slapped his billy club against his boots. The loud boom echoed off the concrete buildings. As he called for the camp police, he kept taunting us as a disorganized bunch. Intimidated by the cruel giant, we stared at him and then at one another. He was a real mystery to us. "This is Gutenbrunn, you lazy Ost-Juden." This was his name for Jews who were born east of Germany. "You mother-fucking bastards. You will have to earn your keep here."

The SS men just stood by. They didn't need to intimidate us, since this giant was doing their job for them. Then our new boss divided us into three groups and ordered his policemen to lead us into three different blocks. As we left, he handed out a slap here and a curse there. When he saw the box I carried, he slapped it with his club and asked me what I had inside.

I looked at his glowering face. "Those are my dental tools."

"What!" he said, as if he didn't understand what I had said. "Dental tools?" he repeated. "Who allowed you to bring them here?"

"I brought them here because they were helpful in Steineck," I countered. He looked at me sharply but said nothing further. A young policeman, Menashe, took charge of my group. At a safe distance, I asked him who the man was.

"He is an inmate from Hamburg, the Lagerältester here," he said. Then, realizing he had omitted the most pertinent point, he added, "He's a Jew like all of us."

This was mystifying. I had never heard the term Lagerältester, and I had certainly never heard of a Jew who was so powerful in a labor camp. It was hard to understand how he could have gotten all this authority. And even more important, how could he treat his fellow Jews in such a cold and callous manner? "What's his name?" I asked.

"Kurt Goldberg," Menashe answered.

Each camp building seemed thirty meters long and about twelve meters wide. Inside each were eight rows of four-tier bunks, capable of housing eight hundred inmates. On the thick cement walls were rings that once held cattle in place as they were milked. Our new home was a stable, now housing human beasts of burden. The floors were hard clay, the kind that kept the cold inside. "Even on warm days," we were told, "the temperature never goes above thirteen degrees Celsius."

What light entered the room came through windows of iron bars, augmented by an occasional light bulb that hung listlessly from the high ceiling. There was just enough light so that we could see the bunks. This time Papa and I were determined to find bunks higher up from the floor. Someone helped us to find two spaces at the very top. The inmates were already back from work. Most were from Lodz, now called Litzmannstadt by the Germans. There were Jews from Germany, Holland, and Austria here. While most of us from Steineck were craftsmen and merchants from small villages, the other inmates here were more worldly. I met intellectuals, authors, and lawyers. But like the world outside, there were also a number of common thugs. It was a multilingual camp, and if one of us spoke in Yiddish, we could expect a reply in a dialect of German.

Kurt Goldberg was twenty-four. He was the product of a mixed marriage and felt more German than Jewish. In 1933 he had joined the Hitler Youth, but later the Nürnberg laws reclassified him as a Jew, and he was expelled from the "Aryan" organization. Nevertheless, he was convinced that he deserved better, and he took out the anger and frustration of his misfortune by intimidating his fellow Jews. His boldness and his command of the German language made him a perfect tool for the malevolent Nazi system. He once admitted that if his mother had claimed that he was fathered by an Aryan, he would be free of this Jewish stigma. His special contempt, however, was reserved for Polish Jews. He thought that the "Ost-Juden" were responsible for his dilemma. Among the many diabolical characters anointed in that era, he will always remain the most enigmatic to me. Ultimately he fell from Nazi favor and died.

Gutenbrunn had begun to operate as a camp four months before we arrived. In quick succession other camps had cropped up all around Poznan: Eichenwalde, Lenzingen, Antoninek, Fort Radziwill. By the time we got to Gutenbrunn, eighteen hundred inmates, all Jews, were already inside the walls. The guards were Poles, just as they were at Steineck. Our food rations were identical: a "pica" of bread, morning and night, and soup twice a day. Yet Gutenbrunn was in many ways different. It had better facilities, including showers and an infirmary. The camp doctor was Seidel, an Austrian. He supervised a hospital with twelve beds. The bunks were roomier, with fresh straw on each with a pillow and pallet. But not even this brought an end to the bugs, although taking periodic showers and delousing our clothes brought some relief.

While on the surface it would seem that life was better here, it wasn't. In our block, a boy barely twelve years old drew my attention. He was the youngest person I had seen so far in camp. His name was Mendel, but everyone called him by the diminutive, Mendele. He had been arrested in Lodz for smuggling food into the ghetto. He had claimed to be sixteen and was believed. This landed him in Gutenbrunn. With a round face and bright smiling eyes, he was pleasant to look at. He had a typical Lodz Yiddish accent and was a compulsive talker. He knew how to stay alive in Gutenbrunn by doing whatever was required to survive. Neither a hard worker nor lazy, Mendele was camp smart. Even though he was a malingerer and a goldbricker, the foremen generally liked him. He knew how to make them believe he worked hard, by wiping his forehead when they watched him. He stopped his work as soon as they walked away. Gifted with the knowledge of how to con everyone, he knew how to organize and outsmart inmates twice his age. While others got punished for an offense, Mendele, who committed the same offense, got away with only a warning. He was no stranger to anyone he thought he could profit from. The ghetto life had equipped him with a strong survival instinct. He was a product of the new order. Yet one could not help but like him.

We could not see outside the camp grounds, for Gutenbrunn's four tall buildings and enclosing walls blocked out the world. Sometimes it seemed as if this was all that was left of the universe.

We had been in the block less than an hour when we were called to the Appellplatz (mustering ground) again. The SS men were gone, leaving us to Goldberg and his policemen. Goldberg barked out orders in a cruel tone as he continued to demean us with insults. The police obediently assisted him with their own abuse. We were told that on Monday all of us were going to work in the Herdecke Kommando, a newly formed group. Even though we knew that everyone's usual work was constructing railroad tracks, we didn't have the foggiest idea what the Herdecke Kommando was. Our experience with rail construction nonetheless must be valuable to Gutenbrunn, we thought. Unlike the prisoners already here, the one hundred from Steineck had by now worked nearly a year on this railroad. Perhaps that was the reason we were brought here.

The monotony of the food continued. Our meals consisted of a square of margarine and a spoonful of marmalade, and at noon and in the evening we also got a ladleful of turnip soup. The staple crop here was turnips. Getting food here took us twice the time it did in Steineck. They needed kitchen help badly. As in Steineck, the policemen here were not short of food, German cigarettes, or alcohol. When we returned to our bunks, I learned that Goldberg had been asking where the dentist was. Soon I could hear him yelling from the far end of the building. When he saw me, he came over and asked me which bunk was mine. I didn't know what to say. But this time he acted more rational, and his voice was much calmer. Soon I learned why. He was to take the bunk next to mine. I was surprised that a powerful man like him didn't have a better place to sleep. I was perplexed and puzzled at why he picked a bunk next to mine. Was he targeting me for mischief? Though there was no homosexuality in Steineck that I knew of, this was Gutenbrunn, a different camp. Now that I knew Goldberg was a prisoner, I decided to disregard his authority and treat him like anyone else. I knew the situation required me to be careful, though. I could not object to his bringing his personal things and leaving them on the bunk next to mine. He came late that evening, long after curfew. Neither my father nor I were yet asleep. He noticed our uneasiness, then uttered a few words to me, turned, and fell asleep. Though I was never at ease with him next to me, I didn't fear him any longer. A couple of weeks later he decided to move to another bunk. In time we developed a smoother relationship, and he even went out of his way to help me.

Monday at six in the morning policemen came into the block and began hitting the bunks with their billy clubs and shouting, "Aufstehen!" The usual rush began. Standing in the food line, I began the silent debate. Shall I eat my pica all at once or save part for later? In the confusion of the first morning, a young inmate's bowl of soup spilled to the ground. Tears ran down his cheeks, for he knew he would go hungry that day.

"Eintreten! Step in line!" the policemen yelled, herding us into rows of five. Soon we learned how the Herdecke Kommando got its name. Herdecke was then the engineer in charge of building this section of the railroad. He was German, like all the foremen here. My father and I were assigned to haul split stones in wheelbarrows up to the rail beds. Pushing them on the sandy soil was hard enough, but doing it uphill was definitely beyond my father's strength. Yet he couldn't let on, for that would brand him a work shirker, and that was a dangerous image to have in camp. In a few days our arms and shoulders had become so sore that we could hardly lift them. Fortunately, Herdecke noticed it on one of his inspections, and Papa was moved to raking, where he could take short breaks. We were able to return to the camp at noon for soup. Since we no longer had Zosia's food packages or Stasia's scraps, we relied solely on what we got in camp.

Although I was unable to contact Zosia, one day she came. I was told that she was at the kitchen gate asking for me. This gate was open all day for the trucks that delivered food. I wondered how she had found me. "I heard where you were from the people in Brodzice. I had no trouble finding the camp," she said. By now nearly all the inmates knew that I had a relationship with a shiksa. The attention we got made us both uncomfortable. When the sentries at the gate were gone, we casually walked outside. I discovered that we could have a certain amount of privacy here. I embraced her, and we kissed. I was delighted to see her again.

First she was concerned about the quantity of medication I still had. Then we talked a while about Gutenbrunn and our work. As usual, she had brought some food for us. After we said good-bye I watched as she disappeared into the distance. I wondered if we would ever have the freedom we had at Steineck. I returned with Zosia's package, and for the first time Papa and I had real bread in Gutenbrunn. My father must have known about Zosia, although he had never met her and I never spoke with him about her.

The inmates in Gutenbrunn did not have any dental care. Since Goldberg knew about my instruments and my dental work in Steineck, I decided to ask him if I could help when needed here. He listened, and then he sent me to speak with Dr. Seidel, whom I had not yet met. I went after work. The first aid room was full of inmates suffering from a variety of ailments. A large number of them had swollen legs, with huge ankles, and I wondered why. Dr. Seidel said it was edema. He told me that to still hunger, some inmates drank more water than their systems could handle, and the excess settled in their legs. "The slightest scratch or abrasion will not heal. The wound becomes infected, and that has disastrous consequences for them," he said. "The cure is rest and proper nourishment." Those luxuries were not available to us. Some of the sick begged the doctor for a day or two off, hoping to recuperate, but he could not grant their wishes.

Dr. Seidel was in his early forties, small of stature with narrow shoulders and a slightly sunken chest. He was a quiet, well-mannered man. He spoke with a squeaky voice. When he looked at me, his eyes seemed to pierce right through me. He was direct and quite sure of what he said. He seemed constantly to chew on something. His standard advice was "Let those wounds dry, and they'll heal by themselves." At first I thought his remedies were the result of having few medical supplies. Later I learned he actually believed this to be good therapy, and it was often so.

Because a lot of inmates were waiting, I wanted to leave and return another time. But when he heard that Kurt Goldberg had sent me to see him, he waved me into the next room. I explained who I was and why I had come. He listened carefully. I told him that I could come after work and help if a dentist was needed. He promptly agreed. "You could keep your things in one of these two hatches," he said, pointing at them.

I had few tools or medications: three extraction forceps, a couple of scalpels, some explorers and excavators, a chisel, two scalers, a dozen pulp-canal reamers. Some of my drills were useless without a drilling machine. I left them all in the infirmary. The inmates most frequently complained about painful and bleeding gums. Without proper equipment for sterilization, I had to disinfect my instruments over an alcohol flame.

At the next roll call Goldberg announced that a dentist would be available for the inmates in the infirmary every day after work and on weekends. By now I had experience extracting teeth. Gutenbrunn held nearly double the inmates that Steineck had had, and some days I extracted as many as half a dozen teeth. Once when Goldberg came into the first aid room with the Kommandant, he proudly pointed at me, as if I had been his discovery, and said, "Herr Lagerführer, we now have a dentist. He is one of those who came from Steineck. He has instruments. He comes here after his regular work on the Baustelle." That idea appealed to the Nazi.

On Sunday afternoon, when it was quiet in the stable, I heard Reb Moishe pounding his chest in prayer. "He is perfect and dealeth truly with the pure in heart. And all believe that his work is perfect." In the pits of existence, he still believed deeply in the Divine. I could hear the church bells ringing outside. Birds flew in formation in and out of our "fortress" with ease. I wished that I could share their freedom.

Like clockwork, as soon as the kitchen window opened, inmates formed lines stretching hundreds of meters into the yard. Rachmiel, wearing a chef's hat with an apron draping over his bulging belly, looked on as we stood there craving his foul-tasting soup, which in a normal world would have been scorned by dogs. But to us a bite of bread and a spoonful of soup had immeasurable value. To understand what hunger can do to the mind, one has to go hungry for a long time. Hunger gnaws at the insides like a worm. The desire to eat something is so great that one is ready to do anything. Rumors that inmates ate grass to stay alive in Gutenbrunn are true. Retaining a vestige of pride in the face of such hunger was very difficult. This was especially true for my friend, David Kot, who had been pampered with cookies and milk at home. Once a rugged fellow, he was losing strength and looked thinner every day.

The latest letter from home was most disturbing. We could no longer deceive ourselves but had to expect the worst. "Except for a few older men and some still protected by the Judenrat, most have been deported from the ghetto. The outlook for our survival here much longer is bleak. We know that our lives will soon end," Pola wrote. She corroborated the news from recently arrived inmates: "All the ghettos in Warthegau will soon be empty.... while the people are told that they're being resettled, they are killed in the newest, most barbaric way, by the exhaust of the very vehicle they're transported in."

One morning as we were about to leave for work, Herdecke came to the camp and asked Goldberg for additional workers. At the same time he asked for someone who could do office work. Goldberg must have remembered that I had said that I worked in an office in Steineck, because he ordered me to report to Herdecke. My string of good luck was continuing.

Not every German at the camps was an unscrupulous, virulent anti-Semite. Although Herdecke was a member of the Nazi party, he did not totally believe in their racial policies. While I worked for him, on more than one occasion I heard him voicing displeasure with Hitler's senseless war. He never mistreated any of us, and he ordered the Germans under him to do likewise. That was a quality that wasn't often found among Nazis in camp.

Herdecke's field office, where he put me to work, was a tiny hut with barely enough room for a drafting table, desk, chair, and file cabinet. When he was there the hut was crowded, but that only happened when he came to brew coffee for himself with an electric immersion heater that he called a Tauchsieder. My work consisted mostly of making hand reproductions of technical blueprints and collecting construction data from the foremen.

One day as I stirred my soup in camp, fishing hopelessly for bits of potato, a sudden turmoil erupted. I saw an inmate being dragged by a guard. He was yelling and begging to be let go. Apparently the inmate had been helping to unload a truck and was caught stuffing potatoes in his pockets. This "crime" had been punished before with a heavy beating by our policemen, but this time a sentry hauled the inmate to the guardhouse and did not release him. We did not see him for the rest of the day. Though I no longer recall his name, I did know him. Given the opportunity, many of us would have done as he did, so we were anxious to learn what his fate would be.

Two days later, when we returned from work, we were marched to the gallows. Our hearts were heavy. We knew something was wrong. Could it be that they were going to hang a man for stealing a few potatoes? Soon our fears were confirmed. Surrounded by three black-uniformed Gestapo men, the inmate was marched with his hands tied behind his back to the gallows, where a sign was placed on his chest heralding his crime. His jacket hung loosely, as if he had shrunk in those two days. He was pale, his eyes bulging. "What have they done to him?" we whispered. Then one of the Gestapo ordered him to stand on a chair below a dangling noose. Next they tied up his legs and slung the noose over his neck. The Gestapo man read his sentence aloud: "For the act of sabotage, Reichsführer Himmler sentences you to death by hanging on the gallows." A green-uniformed Waffen SS man jerked the chair from under the inmate's feet. His body dropped, and his feet swung back and forth. Then his neck snapped, pitching his head to one side. We looked at each other with astonishment. This was a new low for us. Outrage welled up in my throat. I thought the fate of all of us was hanging on those ropes. I felt like yelling "Murderers!" The ground seemed to shake under my feet. It was as if I were a witness to a medieval horror. There was a strange silence. Then Dr. Seidel examined the inmate and pronounced him dead. Two first aid people removed his body and laid it at the side of the building.

I saw firsthand the hanged man. On his neck were deep rope burns. An enlarged blue tongue hung out of his mouth. Urine and feces fouled his dead body. I asked God if he was ever hungry. Later, as we stood in line for our evening ration, I had a fleeting thought: How can we go on as if nothing has happened?

Penalties for petty crimes stiffened. Almost anything that wasn't explicitly allowed became a crime. Sometimes simple allegations of a planned escape were sufficient to cause a hanging. The victim was often blamed for being caught. We now risked execution at every turn, but prisoners continued taking risks, for the alternative was starvation. In time we witnessed more such horrors, and Thursday became a regular execution day in Gutenbrunn. When more than eight hangings were scheduled for a day, there was a double shift at the gallows. On one day eleven prisoners, not all from Gutenbrunn, were executed. After they were declared dead, we removed them. On one occasion, as if by a miracle, suddenly one man began breathing. For a moment I thought they would let him live. But when one of the Gestapo noticed his chest moving up and down, he walked over and shot him point-blank in the head. This was hard to shake off. Someone protested, muttering, "The Geneva Convention forbids double punishment." But who could stop them?

Another ugly incident would puzzle me for many years to come. On one Sunday afternoon, as I walked in the yard, two Gestapo came through the kitchen door into the camp and ordered a policeman to drive a hook into a door frame. Then, in extraordinary secrecy, they executed a pretty young girl who had come with them in their car. Afterward, they put her body into the trunk and left. Since on Sundays the Kommandant and many guards did not come to the camp, few people ever knew what had happened.

The price paid in human life in Gutenbrunn wasn't only on the gallows. Here, as in Steineck, more inmates died from malnutrition and from exhaustion. Those who lay in the infirmary talked to one another. They could no longer contain their misery. "We gave in to slavery, and we labor for them to see an end to this, but if it goes on much longer, none of us will survive," one said. "Why did we allow them to bring us here?"

"What was our alternative? If we hadn't come in peace, they would have taken us with violence, and we still would have ended up where we are," said another.

"Why does the world remain so indifferent to this? Don't they know what is happening?" the first said.

"They probably don't," said the other.

"They must know," the first insisted. "They just don't care."

"Red Cross people know what is going on." I was called away and heard only fragments of their continuing discussion. They said they feared that because the Germans rendered us worthless parasites, the rest of the world didn't see us any differently. They spoke as if a sense of abandonment had taken hold of them, as if they thought that the world had given up on us.

Among the newest group of Jews to arrive was a journalist from Leipzig named Richard Grimm. I met him on the tracks. He told me that he deplored the Goldberg reception. He was a clever, courageous, and physically imposing man with broad shoulders. Like Goldberg, he spoke fluent German. Unfamiliar with camp strategy, he was cautious. He worked hard, probing and asking questions. After he learned the camp rules, he went on the offensive against Goldberg. With a recent change in Kommandants, Grimm saw an opportunity to undermine Goldberg's authority. That gave Goldberg much to worry about.

The clever and courageous Leipziger journalist quickly attracted the new Kommandant's attention. More mature than Goldberg, with superior intelligence, Grimm was appointed to a newly created position as camp administrator. No one knew exactly what his responsibilities were, but his post made him an insider. Since it brought him into constant contact with the SS Kommandant, he developed a power base and often challenged Goldberg's authority. There was bickering and posturing as the two vied for the favor of the SS. Goldberg complained about Grimm, and Grimm openly criticized Goldberg. It became clear that only one of them could be the top Jewish inmate in the camp. The Kommandant preferred Grimm's bright, decisive approach to Goldberg's impetuous brashness, and Grimm became the camp's Lagerältester. Richard Grimm was now the main player, and although Kurt Goldberg still hung on as head of the police, at long last his rule was over.

In October 1942 the weather turned foul. The clothes we had worn all these long months turned to rags, and our shoes had long ago fallen apart. Some tied string around the fragments of their shoes. How much we wanted to delay winter's coming! At work the prisoners did everything to stay warm; they flung their arms about and stamped their feet to warm their freezing limbs. Some even traded their soup for newspapers or empty cement bags to tie around their bodies. Herdecke now spent more time in the hut keeping warm and drinking coffee. I noticed loads of wood scraps lying around, and a plan developed. I knew that for Herdecke to agree, my argument would have to be based on an increase in productivity. Each time I was ready to bring up my proposal, he left.

One day I stopped him before he could leave the hut. "Mr. Herdecke, our people are losing much of their strength just keeping warm. I think if we give them a chance to warm up at intervals, they will be more productive. I wonder if you could allow them a break at midmorning. We have enough wood scraps to keep a fire going, and we could even brew coffee, as we did in Steineck."

He raised his eyes from his blueprints and looked at me with a distant gaze. A few moments passed, and when I thought he would say no, he agreed. I could see that I had stirred his humanity. "Yes," he said, "but where do you want to build the fire?" I told him about Stasia's field kitchen, and he agreed to the idea and offered to bring us some ersatz coffee. A few days later I called on my father to gather wood, start a fire, and brew the coffee. It could not have come at a better time, for Papa was beginning to take on the look of a Mussulman. He set up a kiln of bricks, and within a couple of days the half hour coffee break was a reality. This simple work break may have saved many lives that winter. Thereafter, everyone called Papa the Coffee Man.

It was refreshing to encounter a decent Nazi like Herdecke.

Good will is mighty contagious. He set an example for his foremen, and they too became more reasonable. Herdecke was condemning his Führer in front of me more often now. He told me he had joined the party to hold on to his engineering career. But he felt that the Führer was leading his people to disaster. Regardless of what he thought, I couldn't afford to discuss that subject.

My father also began to bake potatoes for inmates who managed to steal them. In return, he could keep a share for himself. Relieved from hard work and with a bit more sustenance, Papa slowly regained his rosy cheeks. Thanks to Grimm's influence on the Kommandant, our medical barracks was enlarged, allowing us to keep more of the sick inmates in bed. Papa and I also moved into a new barracks, which was built to house new arrivals. I stopped working for Herdecke so that I could remain in the infirmary full time.

It was a long trip on foot for Zosia to visit me, yet she came at least once a month to bring some food, supply me with medication, and deliver letters from Pola and Mama. One Saturday she handed me two of their letters. I thought this was very unusual, since the letters were postmarked only two days apart. When I returned to the barracks, Papa opened one, and I the other. The first letter told of the ongoing deportations. The second, however, was even more disturbing. My brother, Josek, had been arrested and deported, and Mama and Pola didn't know his whereabouts. Even his exemption, issued to him by a captain in the German army, wasn't of any merit. It was a severe blow to Mother. "No matter what," wrote Pola, "I am not leaving Mama." Papa looked at me, and with a deep sigh he intoned, "God asks us not to question his will." His voice began to quiver with enormous pain. We both knew that Pola and Mama were now in true danger. In my mind I was at home with them. I went to the infirmary, my heart in a vise.

Before long Goldberg lost all of his authority and had to resign himself to Grimm's rule. His once unrestrained, cocky demeanor disappeared as he sank into isolation. Grimm was unscrupulously fair. One of the benefits of his rule was that he called for mandatory bed rest on Sunday afternoons between the hours of two and four. In moments of hope, quite foreign to this place, the remembrance of passionate lyrics to an old Jewish melody prompted the inmates to compose "The Song of Gutenbrunn," following the form of a then-popular Yiddish song, "Americzke Ganiv," about the underworld in America. The refrain of the slow, morose melody was repeated:

Gutenbrunn, here from morning 'til night we toil
For a reward of stale bread and turnip soup.
As Jews we have no right to complain.
And if we do, who will listen?

After each refrain, inmates would spontaneously add their own lyrics, such as:

Work, work, work, 'til freedom comes.
Then life will be good again.
But as for now we don't complain.
And if we do, who will listen?

Yet another inmate broke in and sang:

What is the use, what will they do?
The fate is ours to bear.
Don't grieve, don't be bitter.
And if we do, who will listen?

These and similar verses could be heard each Sunday afternoon.

For a while it seemed that the war had come to a standstill, as if all of the territories the Nazis had won would forever remain theirs. But one day some welcome news arrived. We learned that the United States had declared war on the Axis in December. It was now January 1943, and Tadek told me of the newly formed Jewish labor camps nearby.

Though it was still winter, we were graced with rather pleasant weather one Saturday when Zosia came. This visit was especially welcome, as I hadn't seen her in many weeks. Under her coat she wore a simple but attractive polka dot dress. In the absence of the sentries at the little gate, I went out, and we walked down the road. By now the guards knew me as the dentist, and at worst they'd only call out to me and ask me to return. We kept on the road until we came to a small forest, which we entered.

We strolled through the forest a while, and then we stopped. I looked into her sparkling eyes, took her in my arms, and kissed her. She put her arms around me and gave in to my advances. As we kissed, she rested her head on my shoulder, and our passions rose. We couldn't resist our desires. I lowered her onto the snow, and we made love for the first time in Gutenbrunn. Suddenly we heard voices coming toward us. I sensed trouble. I looked around and didn't know where to hide. As we saw four men coming directly toward us, we tried to act casual. They stopped in front of us. One, the youngest, who was about my age, looked at me with a hostile expression, which told me that we were in for more trouble than I had first thought.

"What are you doing here?" he bristled.

Zosia broke in and answered, "He is my friend, and I came to visit him."

Paying no attention to Zosia's words, he turned back to me and barked, "We know that you're a fucking Jew from the camp. We watched you two go into the woods. And you," he said, pointing to Zosia, "you should be ashamed of yourself, mixing with Jews. A Polish girl whoring with a Jew is disgraceful."

We were at their mercy. He grabbed me by my shirt and punched me in the face several times. He then shoved me into the hands of one of his comrades, who slapped me and threw me back to him. I was thrown to the ground and kicked as I tried to get up. Zosia was crying and pleading, "Why are you doing this? Why are you hurting him? He hasn't done a thing to you." She begged in vain, as the other two bullies grabbed her and dragged her away from me.

Each time I tried to get up, they kicked me as if I were a soccer ball. I thought they would never stop. "Why are you beating me?" I pleaded. Throughout my ordeal, I kept thinking of the consequences of being taken to the guardhouse. I thought I was finished.

Their rage and anger eventually subsided. They had had enough, and they left. My nightmare was over, and I was fortunate that they had not taken me to the guardhouse, where anything could have been done to me. My head spun, and my face burned. My clothes were bloody, the insides of my cheeks were cut, and some of my teeth felt loose. I tried to move my jaw. Though it hurt a lot, it wasn't fractured. Zosia was aghast, seeing the cuts on my face. Though my body hurt from the pounding it had received, the deepest pain came from within, as stomach cramps doubled me over, repeating the agony I had felt after Krusche's beating in Steineck. Zosia knew how ashamed I felt.

"They're just a bunch of hoodlums. They don't know what they're doing," she consoled me. Zosia helped me to clean off my clothes. I wanted to get back to the camp as quickly as possible. She left me my medication and a bundle she had brought with her. Draped in shame and anger, I kissed her good-bye.

At the edge of the woods I carefully scanned the road to the camp. Seeing it was safe, I walked the short distance back to the kitchen gate. Once I was in the yard, I could easily mingle with the other inmates. It was now half past two. The soup ration had long ago been distributed, but the perpetual optimists still monitored the kitchen window in case some seconds might be given out. I left the bread and medicine package under Papa's blanket. I went to wash my face and rinse my mouth. I hoped that in time some of my wobbling teeth would tighten.

This winter didn't turn out to be as bitterly cold as the previous one, but our clothes, now in tatters, were no match for it. The attrition rate among those handling the icy rails was considerable. Though I no longer worked for Herdecke, our detachment still had the half hour breaks, and my father was still in charge of brewing the coffee.

One day at the beginning of April, Mendele followed me as I crossed the yard. "Did you hear what is going on in Warsaw?" he asked. Mendele often told strange stories, some barely half true. But what he said sounded so terrible that I decided to listen. "The Germans are transporting men, women, and children from the ghetto to a camp called Treblinka, and there's where they're killing them," he said.

"Mendele, you are spinning some tale again," I said.

In a wild rage he repeated the story. "I swear to God, it's the truth," he countered. This sounded serious, so I asked him who told him in the first place. "A Pole from the underground," he said. This was the first such mass extermination that we had heard of. Much later I learned that nearly three hundred thousand people were killed there. By inspiring a mixture of terror and reverence, the Nazis shaped us into well-disciplined slaves willing to work for them just to continue living. But when they couldn't kill us fast enough with forced labor, they came up with ideas like Chelmno and Treblinka.

As the workers completed one section of rail, they were moved further away from the camp. This added three to five kilometers of walking per day to their toil. Because of more frequent casualties, Dr. Seidel wanted us to patrol the sites at least an hour each day for sick and injured. I was the first volunteer. With bandages, cotton, and a bottle of iodine, I went each morning to the work site.

On a Sunday in late April, when Zosia came, she had a letter from the ghetto. My premonition was right. The news was grave. Reading just the first sentence, I froze. My mother and sister had been murdered.

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