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Subject: Jack Goldman Testifies of Gassings at Sachsenhausen
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Archive/File: camps/auschwitz/auschwitz.015
Last-Modified: 1994/07/14

     Jack Goldman, though born in Mannheim, Germany, was jailed with his 
     father as a Polish Jew.  He was in Auschwitz during the uprising of 
     September 1944.

     The Germans kept all the Polish citizens confined until the war 
     with Poland was over.  The Poles who were not Jewish were then sent 
     home.  The Jews were kept in jail until they were sent to camps.  
     My uncle was on the first transport to Buchenwald.  The rest of us 
     were sent to Sachsenhausen, near Berlin.  We were kept in a Jewish 
     barrack and not permitted to mingle with other prisoners.  We were 
     not the first Jews to arrive.  Some had been in the camp for years, 
     but the life in the camp changed radically at this time.  Before 
     our arrival Jews worked in their own trade.  They were carpenters, 
     mechanics, orderlies in hospitals, depending on the training they 
     had received before their arrest.  But when we came Jews were 
     treated as entirely different beings.  We were put in quarantine 
     and expected to sit on a hard floor in a specific position, and the 
     only people who came into our barrack were the SS.  They would beat 
     a few people, give us a little fresh air and chase us around the 
     barracks, whipping and beating us as we ran. 

     In our barrack we put the oldest and weakest men in the center and 
     the youngest and strongest guys in the first row, which was only a 
     step from the door.  When an SS man came in he was likely to slap 
     the first guy in his way, so we changed the first guy so that the 
     same one wouldn't get slapped all the time.  The we practiced the 
     domino theory of falling - that means the guy that gets hit falls 
     at the first blow and pulls the others down with him.  This made 
     the SS very happy.  As soon as they saw somebody falling down they 
     had accomplished what they wanted....

     After a few months they gave us shovels and took us out to work.  
     We would carry sand from one place to another and then back again 
     for no purpose.  That went on for months and months until they 
     picked a few of us to learn bricklaying.  This too was frustrating 
     because we would build a wall and take it down and build it again.  
     The only good thing about it was that we were given an extra slice 
     of bread at the end of the day.

     When we became expert at laying bricks the camp commander had us 
     build a pigpen with tiled stalls.  It was his own animal farm with 
     a kitchen where they prepared the food for the animals.  We could 
     see that the animals had much better food and shelter than we did.  
     We would steal the animal food when nobody was looking and bring 
     back our slice of bread to someone in the barracks who was 

     The Germans were always cooperative on a fast day.  They didn't 
     give us any food for those twenty-four hours....

     Russian POWs began to arrive.  They were kept in separate camps in 
     unheated barracks and with no clothes to keep them warm.  So many 
     of them died that we had to build a crematorium.  There were no gas 
     chambers at that time.  The Russians were taken into a room for a 
     physical exam.  They were told to stand against the wall to be 
     measured and shot in the neck while they were stretched to their 
     full height.  Those were the first mass murders I heard of.  Jewish 
     prisoners were murdered individually.  They would be beaten to 
     death or the guards would take a guy they didn't like and put his 
     head into a bucket of water until he died.  This went on every day 
     but the systematic mass killing started when the first Russian POWs 
     arrived.  When we were working a guard would take somebody's cap 
     and throw it over the line we were not allowed to cross.  "Go get 
     your hat," they would say.  If you didn't get it they might shoot 
     you for disobeying an order; if you did they would shoot you for 
     trying to escape.  But with the Russians there was no teasing.  
     They just killed them, without any ceremony.

     In 1942 my father was shot.  It was in the spring when the governor 
     in Czechoslovakia was assassinated.  That same evening the Jews had 
     to remain in formation after the others left.  At random they 
     picked a hundred Jews to retaliate for that killing.  My father 
     wasn't with me.  He had hurt his knee and was in the camp 
     dispensary.  My cousin was standing next to me and the SS pulled 
     him out.  When they started to march away I pulled him back.  He 
     would never have had the guts to do it himself.  They went off 
     without him and for a moment I thought I had saved him.  He died a 
     little later of tuberculosis.  My father, however, was taken with 
     all the patients in the hospital and shot the next morning....

     One fine day in 1942 they took the Jews in Sachsenhausen to the far 
     end of the parade ground...After a while they began taking small 
     groups away and they didn't come back.  We had heard by then about 
     gas chambers and Auschwitz and we were wondering what was going on.  
     When they finally took us to the bathhouse one of young guys, one 
     of the group that had been together from the beginning, said, "Hey, 
     I forgot my toothbrush."  The SS man just said, "Never mind, you 
     won't need it."  So we really didn't expect to come out of the 
     shower alive.

     We went through, came out clean and were given some clean clothes 
     but without a belt or socks, just patched old clothes and wooden 
     shoes.  Our group huddled in a corner and made up our minds that we 
     would try to take some of them along if they tried to kill us....

     We jumped out as we planned and tackled the SS.  Fortunately for us 
     the camp commandant gave orders not to shoot.  If they began to 
     shoot from the towers his men would be in danger and he would have 
     to report the incident to headquarters, which would be bad for his 
     record.  So we fought with the SS until they subdued us, and we 
     were lying on our stomachs with our faces to the ground and the 
     rest of the camp stood around absolutely silent, waiting for the 

     The commandant came over and said, "Boys, what were you trying to 
     do?  Do you want to get yourselves killed?"  He was talking so nice 
     and sweet to us, as if he were our schoolmaster.  It was 
     unbelievable.  "Get up," he says to us.  "Don't be there on the 
     ground.  Stand up!"  So we stood.  He wanted to know who the 
     ringleader was and he finally made us talk.  We told him that we 
     thought for sure we were going to be killed and we wanted to take 
     some SS with us.  He listened sympathetically, told us we were 
     silly and there was nothing to be afraid of.  He gave orders to 
     get us socks and hats and belts for our pants.  He even arranged 
     some hot soup for us and that same night put us on the train to 

     In September 1944 there was a plan to blow up the gas chambers and 
     that was to be a signal for the camp to break out.  The British air 
     force was to bomb the area and set us free.  We communicated with 
     the British by an underground radio...We worked in cells...Nobody 
     knew who the leader was.  But the SS men were in the habit of 
     killings the prisoners who worked in the gas chambers about every 
     six months and the men had to jump the gun.  Also there was a 
     foreman who was a traitor, even though he was Jewish.  Jews are 
     human, and you have rotten apples everywhere.  He told the SS that 
     something was going to happen.  There was a small Krupp factory 
     nearby where male and female prisoners were working.  They smuggled 
     explosives, powder and small arms over the wall.  When the men 
     working in the gas chamber saw they had to leave they started to 
     blow up the gas chambers.  We were all at our work stations.  A 
     fight erupted between the few Jews around the SS.  All they had 
     were a few small pistols and handguns....

     Staying alive from day to day was our resistance.  When I could, I 
     would *nudzh* the SS.  I would innocently ask about Birkenau: 
     "What's going on there?  What are those flames?"  The SS man would 
     say he had no idea and never gave it a thought.  "So you leave the 
     thinking for those with bigger heads," I would say, digging, 
     digging, trying to undermine his morale, trying to see if there was 
     any bit of humanity left in him.

     But there were no more killings after the uprising in Auschwitz in 
     September 1944.  Two gas chambers were destroyed.  And one day we 
     had a call for volunteers to come and tear down the gas chambers.  
     They got lots of volunteers.  We marched to Birkenau singing Hebrew 
     songs.  I'll never forget the sight of the gas chambers and the 
     grapple hooks and ropes connected to the chimney....

     When the Russians began to come close to Auschwitz the Germans 
     began marching all the prisoners who could walk right into Germany.  
     It was January 1945 and we walked through the night in the cold and 
     snow.  We slept as we walked...The group I was in ended up in 

     I contracted typhoid fever...I was delirious.  I remember one time 
     they wanted us to march again and I couldn't move and I told the 
     German army guy, "Shoot me.  Do what you want.  I can't go another 
     step."  He hit me with his rifle butt and told me to get up.  "Go," 
     he said.  "The Americans are here.  Go."  So he saved my life.  The 
     others who couldn't move were shot. [...]

Transcript from the Wiener Oral History Library of the American Jewish 
Committee, as quoted in Rothchild, Sylvia: "Voices From the Holocaust" 
(Meridian paperback edition, New American Library, 1981) pp. 155-164. 

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