The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

The Dentist of Auschwitz

Chapter 13

Above the gate was a sign: "Fürstengrube." Below it was a German miner's salute, "Glückauf." Fürstengrube was a subcamp of Buna, Auschwitz III. On one side the land was dotted with gnarled trees, brush, and partially dried weeds. The camp was rectangular with single-story barracks, which, unlike those in the main camp in Auschwitz, were newly constructed. The windows and doors faced the yard. In the farthest corner, squeezed between two barracks, stood two cement-slab buildings. The entire camp was surrounded by a brick wall and a mesh fence with barbed wire on top. Brick towers stood at the corners of the yard. Our entrance into Fürstengrube was not as tumultuous as our arrivals had been at the three prior camps.

Inside, the yard was still full of construction debris. We were marched to the center of the yard, arranged in a square, and made to face the Hauptscharführer and his entourage in the middle. The guards had already taken up their positions in the towers and at the gate. A roll call count confirmed that the same number had arrived that had left the main camp. Grimm ordered us to follow the Blockführers to the barracks. Before we left, Grimm reminded us to come back as soon as we were assigned to blocks and bunks.

Each barracks consisted of one room. Inside, there were five rows of three-level bunks with narrow passages between. On the bunks lay straw-filled pallets, pillows, and burlap blankets. This was home for about 140 of us. As we returned to the yard, the sun was setting. Once we were in place, Moll instructed us. "I am your Lagerführer here. Those who are willing to work hard will be safe." Then he pointed at the SS men behind him. "Raportführer Anton Lukoschek," he said, "is my assistant." Under him, he explained, were Arbeitsdienstführer Schwientny and Blockführer Pfeiffer. Then came SS-Rottenführer Adolph Voigt, who, he said, would be in charge of the KB. Lastly, he pointed at Klaus Koch, who was to be in charge of the kitchen.

Figure 1. Plan of Auschwitz III, Fürstengrube

A-D, F, G: Barracks for inmates
E: First aid and infirmary
H: Camp offices, camp elder's quarters, dental station, theater, and penalty room
J: Practice area for shooting
K: Reservoir for fighting fires
L: Showers and washrooms
M: SS and inmates' kitchen; at right, the Polish gallows
N: Quarters for kommandant and his subordinates
O: SS quarters and railroad tracks
P: Workshops for inmate workmen: carpenters, handymen, tailors, shoemakers, and barbers
T: SS guard watch towers

The broken line between Blocks A and B shows the ill-fated escape tunnel dug by Kapos. To its right, the Jewish inmate gallows.

Source: Drawn May 11, 1965, by former camp elder Herman Josef. Translation here by Benjamin Jacobs.

Although Moll was about forty-five, weighed about 120 kilos, and was of only average height, which was odd for an SS man, he carried himself well. With his broad shoulders and muscular body, he looked youthful. His straight blond hair was cut short. In his chiseled face were set a pair of cold blue eyes. Only one of them was real, for he had lost the other fighting in France. When he spoke, only the live eye shifted. There seemed to be no real feeling in the heart beating beneath his bulging chest. All in all, in his tight uniform and knee-high boots, he looked like a Prussian warrior or the perfect Nazi poster boy. Moll announced that Richard Grimm would again be our Lagerältester and then left.

The Kapos were usually one ruling clique, but that by no means ensured a safety net for them. Even a Lagerältester might find himself out of power, as Kurt Goldberg did in Gutenbrunn. There were Kapo Michael, Kapo August, Kapo Karl, Kapo Hermann, Kapo Wilhelm, Kapo Olschewski, Kapo Jurkowicz, and others. Although they didn't like to see Grimm, a newcomer, take charge of them, they kept quiet at first. Grimm had a quiet discussion with them, and then he turned to us.

"Here we will be working in a coal mine called Fürstengrube," he said. Then he pointed at the Kapos standing behind him. "They will be taking you to and from the mine. Each block will also have a Blockkapo." Grimm then appointed Goldstein, the former first aid attendant at Steineck, to be our barber. Two more inmates were to repair shoes, two more would work as tailors, and six others would be carpenters in camp. They were to help with the remaining construction of the camp, under Kapo Josef Hermann. Though there were many medical doctors in our ranks, including Seidel from Gutenbrunn, a new doctor named Lubicz, who came with the Kapos, was assigned to the KB. The rest of us were divided into three groups, each of which would work eight-hour shifts in the mine. One shift lasted from 6:00 A.M. until 2:00 P.M., and the third began at 10:00 P.M. and ended at 6:00 A.M. Our only chance for survival seemed to lie in our being valuable to the Third Reich's war machine.

Kapo Hermann wore a red triangle without yellow corners, which marked him as a political non-Jewish prisoner. Nathan Green became the Blockkapo in Block 4, to which Papa, Josek, and I were assigned. He was the only Jewish criminal I had seen in Auschwitz and came from nearby Katowice. What crimes he had been convicted of I never learned. Green was tall, trim, and handsome. Like other Kapos, he wore better prison clothes, which distinguished him from common inmates. In this topsy-turvy world, being a criminal was not a stigma. In fact, criminals thrived in Auschwitz, because they did whatever the Nazis ordered them to do. Green's prison number was around 70000, which meant that he had been in Auschwitz for at least a year and a half. It was demeaning, being ruled by the lowest element of society.

Nothing ever escaped Green's shifty gray eyes. He systematically skimmed rations from us, not only for himself but also for his friends. Papa, Josek, and I worked the early shift, leaving camp at five in the morning. That was the most preferred shift, but unfortunately we were rotated weekly. The night shift allowed us little time to rest, because of the day's barracks activities.

On the first morning of work, Richard Grimm and Kommandant Moll arrived when it was still dark. "Raus, raus, alle raus, eintreten, schnell!" Grimm bellowed. Nathan Green yelled, "Alle aufstehen!" We were given normal rations again and miners' overalls and lamps. At five thirty Scharführer Pfeiffer, assisted by Kapo Michael Puka, marched us out of the camp. Kapo Puka, a German criminal, turned out to be cold-blooded and sadistic. As a long-time inmate, one of the first fifteen thousand, Puka enjoyed a certain status in the camp. Though only 1.7 meters tall, he nevertheless was the most fearsome of all Kapos. He spoke to us only to curse us. His insults he accompanied with grinding teeth. "Scheiss Juden" was his mildest abuse of a Jewish inmate. He was cynical and quick to ridicule.

About two hundred of us were under Puka's command. After leaving the camp, we passed a cemetery. The gravestones inside were surrounded by withering weeds. Some stones were toppled and sunken. Two and a half kilometers further on, we came to a hut with a slanted roof. At first it did not look like a mine, but when several men in overalls with lights and lunch boxes in hand came out, we knew we were there.

In prewar Poland, this was known as the Harceska Mine, and it had been inoperative for over twenty years. Rubber was crucial to the German I.G. Farben Company. In order to manufacture synthetic rubber, coal was needed. When the Germans occupied this area in 1939, they reopened the mine and renamed it Fürstengrube. Günthergrube, not far away, had a similar history. It had been renamed in honor of Günther Falkenhahn, the I.G. Farben director there.

The first thirty men, including Josek, Papa, and me, descended into the mine on a hand-operated elevator. We could smell the odor of coal. I knew that miners worked hard and always faced danger. I respected the danger and did not know what to expect. None of us had ever seen or ever been inside a mine. When the elevator stopped and the doors opened, a thick coal fume greeted us. The air lacked oxygen and was full of coal dust. We could hardly see ahead of us. Before long our eyes adjusted, and we saw a long tunnel with a rail track and carts in the middle. One foreman took my father and me, and another led the rest of the group down the track. We followed our foreman into a cave. There lay coal lumps weighing from a few grams to fourteen kilos. Some were still lodged in the cave walls. "This cave was just blasted yesterday," said the foreman, as he handed us shovels and buckets. Our job was to fill the buckets and load the coal onto the carts.

The cave was barely big enough for both of us to fit into. The only light we had came from our lamps. We began working, on our knees with our heads bent. The smell of coal caused us to get dizzy. At midday a couple of inmates brought down buckets of soup--the usual turnip and water and, if we were lucky, a potato. Then we saw Josek again. He told us that he and two others moved the filled carts to the end of the mine, where a locomotive pulled them further. By then we were all weary and tired, and as black as chimney sweeps. Coal dust had settled in our mouths and noses and had covered our skin. Kapos Puka and Pfeiffer were waiting as we came up at two o'clock. "One, two, three," Puka yelled, demanding that we march back to camp. When we neared the camp, he created a real charade: "Mützen ab! Mützen auf!" (Caps on! Caps off!), he shouted. That day, in order to ingratiate himself with Pfeiffer, he beat up an inmate without reason or provocation.

Soup once a day, a little bread, and coffee twice a day was not enough nourishment to prevent the further deterioration of our health. Zosia, Stasia, and all those kind souls who had helped us in the past were far away, so hard times continued. After a week or two our arms hurt from lifting the heavy shovels. Lugging the coal lumps by hand to the carts was even more difficult, and our hands were now calloused and cracked. The coal dust gradually baked into our skins, and the fat-free soap we used could not wash it off. My eyelids looked as if they were coated with mascara. Papa and Josek didn't look any better. It won't be long before all of us are black Mussulmen, I thought.

Most Schachtmeisters (foremen) here were Poles. But there were also some Germans and Volksdeutsche. Most started out as reasonable and decent people, but in time they adopted the Kapo tactics and resorted to abuse and beating. We soon discovered that Hauptscharführer Moll regarded the physical punishment of inmates as his privilege. He disliked being upstaged by others. One day when Moll learned that an inmate had been beaten and disabled from work by a foreman, he ordered the foremen to stop punishing inmates and instead to report inmates' offenses to the camp. One day an inmate gave his foreman a letter to mail, as he had done many times before. This time, however, the foreman reported it to Kapo Puka. Puka in turn told Pfeiffer about it, and Pfeiffer then ordered the prisoner punished upon his return to the camp. From then on, no one dared to send out a letter.

At the beginning of December 1943 the first snow fell. Winter was coming. Our difficulties increased as the cold took its toll. At least one inmate per day was unable to make it back from work on his own. One day Papa was fortunate to be given an extra portion of bread. He kept it all day long to share with his sons in the evening. That was a day of reprieve for us: we got our first extra food since leaving Gutenbrunn.

At the end of a day's work I could hardly straighten my hands. My knuckles were bruised and oozed blood. In the meantime, our camp kept growing. Two more medical doctors were added to the KB, and Dr. Seidel finally got his old job back.

Josef Hermann's Sonderkommandos built two more barracks and an addition to the KB and also sectioned off space in Barracks 7 as an inmate penal room. Hermann, the architect, always kept his distance from the rest of the Jewish inmates. Yet he did not act like the ordinary Kapos did, often not wearing his Kapo armband. Another individual, Willy Engel, the Lagerschreiber, slowly gained importance in camp. He kept the camp's records and handled the SS men's mail. Hermann was from Núremberg, and Willy from Prague. Wily had come to Fürstengrube with his identical twin brother a month before. Sometimes it was hard to tell them apart. Wily had a degree in accounting from Prague University, where Viky, his brother, had been a chemistry student. Willy was clear-headed and reasonable, and Viky was a bit cynical. I got to know them both and liked them. Because all mail came to the office, where Willy worked, he monitored matters concerning us. Like most camp functionaries, he received "Kapo rations" and so could help his brother, who worked in my shift in the mine.

Figure 2. Plan of Inmate Infirmary at Fürstengrube

1: Common hall, with three-tier bunks
2: Living quarters for Dr. Lubicz and his assistants
3: Office
4: Room for patients with infectious diseases
5: Room for the seriously ill
6: Food storage
7: Living quarters for block elder and nurses
8-9: Operating rooms
10: Washing and toilet facilities
11: Stove for heating water

Josef Jorkowski, a Pole, was the block elder. Caring for the ill were also Jablonski, a Polish Jew from Wroclaw, and Teintuch, from Lodz. The dental station was run by inmate #141129, Bronek Jakubowicz.

Source: 1975 drawing from Tadeusz Iwasko, Hefte von Auschwitz 16 (Auschwitz: Verlag Staatliches Auschwitz-Museum, 1978): 41. Translation here by Benjamin Jacobs.

It is important to mention that an inmate could not make a complaint about a Kapo, regardless of what the Kapo did. Thus the dishonest Kapos went on cheating their charges with impunity. They had cigarettes, vodka, and real leather shoes. Some had separate rooms with furniture--even real beds. Blockkapo Michael Eschmann's room was the best example. The walls, alternately, were painted blue, strawberry red, canary yellow, and kelly green. The ceiling was purple, and the floor was a high-gloss pink. The room looked so perverse that I have never forgotten its appearance.

Srulek Lipshitz, a Jewish inmate who knew about electronics sometimes repaired radios for the SS and on those occasions heard BBC newscasts. Unlike the gossip that we heard otherwise, his bits of news were valuable. He reported that the Allies were on the assault. Everything he told us made us feel as if the arms of the Allied forces were reaching out to us. But there was also fear that the Nazis' enmity toward us was so virulent that the Allies' advance might hasten our deaths. We had real doubts that the Nazis would ever let us go. One day Srulek overheard two SS men discussing a Jewish woman who had shot a guard before going into the gas chamber. We later heard about it from other inmates as well.

We were in a constant state of hunger. Sometimes I closed my eyes just to invite a vision of food. My strength was slipping. There was not much flesh or muscle left on my body. Each day I feared the next. Papa and Josek had also deteriorated. My father had once weighed ninety-one kilos, and now he was just half that. How long could we hold on? Hope seemed to be drifting away.

[ Previous Chapter | Table of Contents | Next Chapter ]

Home ·  Site Map ·  What's New? ·  Search Nizkor

© The Nizkor Project, 1991-2012

This site is intended for educational purposes to teach about the Holocaust and to combat hatred. Any statements or excerpts found on this site are for educational purposes only.

As part of these educational purposes, Nizkor may include on this website materials, such as excerpts from the writings of racists and antisemites. Far from approving these writings, Nizkor condemns them and provides them so that its readers can learn the nature and extent of hate and antisemitic discourse. Nizkor urges the readers of these pages to condemn racist and hate speech in all of its forms and manifestations.