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The first night as a free man

I could not fall asleep. I was full of impressions of the last few days and my heart was overloaded with joy so that my mind could not calm down. I thought: What should I do now? Should I go back to the camp to see what happened to our friends or should I go out and meet the American army? All night long I made plans, considering projects to organize my future program. I woke up my friend, wanting to ask his advice, but he had fallen into a deep sleep, like after a wedding. He was so soundly asleep, that it was a shame for me to wake him. His face was so calm, satisfied, and a smile could be seen around the corners of his mouth. No doubt he was toying with wonderful dreams. However, as soon as it was daylight, when the light of day started to penetrate through the cracks in the shutters, I got out of bed and woke my friend. I could hardly wake him. When he opened his eyes I started to shout:

"Auf! Auf! Roll call!!! Komm mensch. We have to go to meet General Patton. He's waiting for us".

We washed quickly, put our striped clothes back on because that was our mark, but the woman would not let us go out without eating breakfast.

"You see, Ernst," I said to my friend, "a lodging has been arranged for us. We no longer have to compete for our food like the hens. Go up there and return some food to them so that they will not be angry with us."

We went out in the street. People regarded us as though we were great heroes who had won the war.

The Pole immediately called together all the slave labourers in the village, Poles, Czechs, Yugoslavs, Italians and Ukrainians. I held a speech for them: "Now we are free and will be able to return home to our families. However, unfortunately, many of us will not find our families who were burnt by the Nazis, or our homes which were destroyed by them. We shall seek out our murderers, our henchmen and torturers and will repay them for their bestiality. Hitler did not torture and destroy only us foreigners, our houses and cities. He also brought about the destruction of his own land. Millions of victims, millions of widows and orphans, that's the bottom line of the insane war which one unbalanced individual wrought upon the world. However, let us behave responsibly. Let us not rob and plunder because before anything else, we have to meet with the commanders of the American army which has come to free us."

The shkotzim (the listeners, who were the non-Jewish slave labourers in the village) all laughed from my naive talk, because each one of them was already dressed in the best clothing of their bosses and neighbours. All of them already had full pockets of stolen things which they had supposedly merely borrowed but everyone agreed that we should go and meet with the army commander. Someone brought from somewhere a high pole and someone else brought a sheet from a house, so a white flag was mounted and given to me. I knew the way to the main railway station, through the surrounding forests, so I led the whole procession with everyone following. When we came to a crossroad on the way, we met a heavy Sherman tank in which there sat a white officer, and behind him a giant negro who was chewing on something. When he saw us he opened his mouth, full of white teeth, and his pupils moved back and forth in their white sockets.

"Who are you?" the negro shouted, grasping his machine gun more firmly in his hands.

I explained, in broken English, that we are foreign slave labourers and concentration camp inmates, survivors, who come from various occupied European countries, and we want to present ourselves to the commander.

The negro sized us up from top to bottom and smiled, showing us his white teeth. He opened his rucksack and took out biscuits, chocolate and chewing gum, which he distributed amongst us. He also told us to go to Ampfing. Here, in the centre of town, there was a pile of wood burning. Around the fire stood soldiers from all divisions and ranks who warmed themselves, but a cool wind swept through the air. From all directions, jeeps and transport trucks sped by, controlled by orderlies with guide books. The market place and the side streets were blocked off by heavy tanks and armoured trucks. I felt lost, as though at a wedding where I do not know any of the celebrants. I stood amongst the soldiers, observing what was going on. On the other side stood an American soldier of a higher rank, who did not take his eyes off me. It was as though his eyes were piercing right through me. Suddenly, he disappeared. It did not take long and I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned around and saw the same military man who asked me: "Are you Jewish? I'm a Jewish boy."

When I heard that, it was as though an electric shock went through my body.

A Jew! A brother, who is extending a warm hand to me and kisses me. It was too much for me. I broke down. I lost my ability to speak and my eyes filled with tears. It was as though a dam had overflowed its banks and filled my heart with tears. I sobbed and lost control as though in a convulsion. I could not calm down. I fell down on the ground and threw myself around as though suffering from a serious illness. I exploded. Many times during treacherous moments of my time in the concentration camp, I felt a need to cry my heart out, to unload myself, because I felt so lonely and so desperate, but at no time then could I cry. It was as though my source of tears had dried up. However, here, suddenly, a flow of tears let loose, flooding me completely.

I imagined that there were no Jews left in Europe, that we were the last remnants of our murdered people. There had been amongst us Jews from all the European countries, from all the countries that were emptied of Jews. The greatest portion were murdered, burnt in the gas chambers and crematoriums. Only a small portion were scattered in the concentration camps as slave labourers. And here, I suddenly saw an American Jew, a true flesh and blood brother in the military uniform of an officer of the invasion forces who helped choke the Nazi snake, and he extends his hand to me like a flesh and blood brother. My head spun and I fainted. I do not know what happened to me after that, but I remember that I woke up in a bed. I saw, at my bedside, a military doctor and a nurse who was wiping the sweat from my forehead. It took two days before I recovered. During that time, I met a lot of high-ranking officers. Some of them spoke a broken Yiddish and some spoke fluent German. They asked me where I come from and if I have any family. From my family in Poland I had little hope of finding anyone. I knew that my mother had been taken away with a transport to Treblinka. I knew nothing about my brother and his family in Krakow. Only later did I find out that the whole family had hidden in a bunker in Krakow-Plashov, but someone, obviously a renegade, snitched on them and their bunker was discovered. When the Gestapo came, my brother had run away, but as soon as he saw that the Gestapo took his wife and young daughter, he joined them because he did not want to leave them alone. The beastly chief of the Krakow Gestapo, Haman, took them away and probably executed them. A younger child, a boy of three, they had given away to a Polish maid who worked in their house for more than five years and was very attached to the children. Therefore, they entrusted the child to her, giving her their best possessions and sufficient money. She was afraid that someone would snitch, so she turned the child over to the Gestapo. That is how they all perished. I knew that I had a brother in Brazil, in Rio de Janeiro, and relatives in United States and Canada, but I could not remember their addresses. They promised to search for my relatives and inform them about my existence.


I become a confidant of the American army

As soon as I got up from bed, I asked the army commander to drive out to the Waldlager to see what happened to the sick. A caravan of around 30 jeeps was organized, at the head of which were the highest commanders of the North American 7th Army. If I am not mistaken, General Hodges also rode along. I rode in the leading jeep with the officers, in order to show them the way. Outside, it was springtime. The sun shone and lit up our faces. The fragrance of spring could be felt in the forest. This was one of the most fortunate mornings of my life. Here I was, a free man, who had just shed the chains of slavery, leading four of the highest commanders of the North American Liberation Forces to the camp where I had so recently struggled for my life. I take them to the infirmary of the sick who could not move from their beds, where their life was wasting away. When the North American commanders came into the infirmary and beheld the skeletal bodies whose skin was yellow and covered with sores and boils, several of them started to cry. These were war leaders, hardened from so many battles, who had so often been faced with death, and had come across so many dead people on their way, still when they saw these living dead, they broke into tears.

One of the sick, when he saw the North American commanders, fainted immediately. When he was revived, he muttered through his burnt lips: "Enough for me. This is what I was waiting for. Now I can die." It was too late to save him because his lungs were punctured and his stomach burnt.

The commanders issued an order to clean up one of the largest buildings in the town of Ampfing, and turn it into a place to care for the sick; that the whole German population should be mobilized to transfer the sick and bring beds, bedding and clothing for the sick. I was given the responsibility to oversee all this, getting twenty soldiers and officers to assist me. We cleared out the headquarter of the O.T. organization which occupied half a street and was like a closed trunk. From all sides, people started to carry beds and bedding. We also drove out with a caravan of twenty wagons and ambulances to the Waldlager, took out the skinny skeletons from the barrack and put them in the clean beds. All the German doctors of the district were also mobilized to examine the sick under the supervision of American military doctors, and treatment for them was started. All the medical supplies that were necessary were requisitioned from the pharmacists in that area. The medicine that was not available was brought by planes from France, and also directly from the U.S.A.

It was impossible to save many of the sick, but there were also quite a number whom it was impossible to save because they no longer resembled living human beings, but wrecks. They were skin and bones. From their eyes one could see that their life had been extinguished. A large group of German nurses was also mobilized to attend to the sick, to bathe and serve them. The German girls came very willingly to work because here they got good food to eat and had the opportunity of meeting and flirting with the American soldiers.

As soon as I finished doing what I could for the sick, I got another "job", to seek out and find the war criminals. I knew them all and knew where to find them. The Germans themselves also denounced them and showed where they were hiding. I ...

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